An open letter to Pope Francis – Maria Wirth

Francis

Maria WirthRespected Holy Father,

Great hope for a positive change in the Catholic Church is pinned on the Pontificate of your Holiness and recent statements indicate that this hope may not be misplaced. The future, your Holiness said in November 2013, is in the respectful coexistence of diversity and in the fundamental right to religious freedom in all its dimensions, and not in muting the different voices of religion.

This statement makes eminent sense and would need to be implemented by all who presently do not subscribe to a respectful coexistence of diversity in regard to religions. However, I sense—wrongly maybe—that it is a plea for other religions to respect Christianity, rather than a commitment by the Church to respect other religions. To be precise, since Christians are occasionally persecuted in Islamic countries, it seems to be an appeal to “live and let live” between the two biggest religions on earth.

Your Holiness is aware that both, Christianity and Islam, claim to be the only true religion and their God, respectively Allah, alone is true. Both religions further hold that all people on earth have to accept this claim and join their particular religion to be saved and reach heaven or paradise. Both give a serious warning to those who don’t join: they will land up eternally in hell. These claims of exclusiveness are made without any evidence whatsoever, apart from the fact that the claims contradict each other, as both cannot be true. They require blind belief, and as blind, unreasonable belief is not natural for human beings, for many centuries it was enforced with state power and indoctrinated right from childhood with the fear of hell as the boogeyman.

May I ask Your Holiness to ponder how the respectful coexistence of diversity and the fundamental right to religious freedom is possible as long as these claims of exclusiveness are in place? Were these claims originally made to gain political power or were they made in the interest of the spiritual welfare of humanity? And may I also ask whether Your Holiness personally believes in these claims?

I trust that privately, Your Holiness does not believe in them, as media reported your statement that good atheists also will be redeemed. In other words, they won’t go automatically to hell. However, the Vatican took pains to clarify that Your Holiness did not mean it. Even my mother, 95 and a staunch Catholic all her life, expressed dismay that a perfectly sensible statement by the Pope was watered down.

Your Holiness may feel compelled for worldly reasons to stick to the claim of exclusiveness as dropping it would entail wrapping up all conversion attempts and in the process lose power, wealth and influence. Further there may be fear that other Christian denominations will not go along and will gain an advantage over the Catholic Church. Still another worry may be that Islam will not drop the claim of exclusiveness and will push aggressively for conversion.

However, the Catholic Church was the first institution to put up this baseless claim, which has brought unspeakable disaster upon humankind. From this claim the Church derived not only the “right”, but the “duty” to storm across the globe and impose forcefully her “belief system”—in Europe, in the Americas and in Africa and now in Asia. It was no doubt an ingenious ploy to claim that God wants everyone to become Christian. Mark Twain famously said, “Religion was born when the first con-man met the first fool”. I would change it, “Dogmatic religion was born when ….”

Some centuries later, Islam followed suit, claiming that Allah wants everyone to accept Islam, and we all know the violent conflicts resulting from those unsubstantiated claims. Since the Catholic Church started this disastrous trend, she needs to reverse it. The welfare of humanity as a whole has to be the concern and not the welfare of a religious institution. Hopefully Your Holiness has the courage to make a real, clear change for the better and will not fall for hairsplitting theological arguments, like “redemption is possible but not salvation”, etc.

Most Christians especially in Europe don’t believe any more in unreasonable claims. The sad thing is that together with the dogmas, many reject belief in God altogether. They have not learnt to listen to their conscience and to enquire into truth, as the Church has played the role of the conscience- and truth-keeper for too long. The consequences for our societies are there for everyone to see.

However, many Christians do start pondering and believe in a “great power”, but not in the Christian God. For example, when I asked some fifty Christians in Germany whether they believe that Hindus who heard about Jesus Christ, but do not convert, will go to hell, nobody said yes. Even a priest said no. And not a single German I met was in favour of missionary activity in India. Yet Pope John Paul II declared in India the intention of the Church to plant the cross in Asia in the new millennium and considered India as a field for a rich harvest, which goes completely against ‘respectful coexistence’.

I live in India since 33 years and can assert with full confidence that India has no need of Christian missionaries, and yet huge sums of money are being pumped in to lure converts with material benefits and to build churches. I am aware that Your Holiness is responsible only for Catholics and not for the myriad of other Christian denominations that prey on poor Hindus, but if the Catholic Church made a start of truly respecting Hindus, it would have a big impact.

Maybe Your Holiness is under the impression that Hinduism is a depraved religion and Hindus would do well to accept the Christian God instead of their multiple Gods. Such an impression would be completely wrong. There is no other religion that is—unjustly—denigrated as badly as Hinduism. Sorry to say that Christian (including Catholic) missionaries are in the forefront of this vilification campaign. Few people in the west know how profound India’s ancient tradition is. A solid philosophical basis for our existence and helpful tenets for a fulfilling, meaningful life had been known in India long before “religions”, as we know them today, came into being. The only addition Christianity brought in anew, are unverifiable dogmas that cannot possibly have a bearing on the absolute Truth. Can an event in history impact the absolute Truth? Will Truth make a distinction between people who are baptized and those who are not? “There is no salvation outside the Church” is, and I may be excused for using strong language, ridiculous.

The Indian rishis had discovered ages ago that an all-pervading Presence is at the core of this universe, indescribable, but best described as absolute consciousness. Further, the Hindu law of karma preceded the Christian dictum “as you sow so you reap”. A council stopped Christians from believing in rebirth which would explain many riddles that trouble them, for example why there is great injustice already at birth? The advantage of having a perfect person as a friend and guide on the spiritual path was known in India, but till some 2000 years ago nobody claimed that “only” Krishna or “only” Ram or “only” Buddha can lead to salvation and that whoever does not believe it, goes to hell. “Truth is One, the wise call it by many names”, the Indian rishis declared and listed different names of Gods. That was at a time, when Christianity was nowhere in sight. Surely they would have included “God” as another name, not expecting to be back-stabbed by followers of “God” declaring: “Truth is one and must be called only by one name and is fully revealed only in one book.”

The multiple Gods in Hinduism are personified powers that help to access the formless, nameless Presence that is in all of us. Christians in India are told that Hindu Gods are devils. At the same time, Christianity tries to revive—possibly inspired by Hinduism—belief in angels, as devotion for the Invisible is easier by focusing on images.

Hinduism is not a belief system. It is a knowledge system. It is a genuine enquiry into what is true about us and the world. Hindus are not required to believe anything that does not make sense and can never be verified. There is complete freedom. Yes, most believe in rebirth, which makes sense. Most believe in an all-pervading Brahman—many other names are in use—that is also in humans. Most believe that this divine essence can be experienced in oneself, if the person purifies herself by certain disciplines coupled with devotion. This belief is verifiable. It is not blind. There were many rishis who realized their oneness with Brahman. In Christianity, too, there were mystics who experienced oneness with the Divine like Meister Eckhart did. Sadly, he was excommunicated by the Church. Why is the Church resisting scientific insight that there is some mystery essence in everything? And why is it difficult to accept that in the long, long history of humanity, there were several, not only one, outstanding personalities who showed the way to the truth?

Holy Father, I request you in all sincerity to be such an outstanding personality who guides his followers on a path of expansion, and does not straight-jacket them into an unbelievable belief system, which among others demands converting Hindus to Christianity. Your Holiness is venerated as the representative of the Highest Power in this universe by over a billion of Catholics. Many of your predecessors were not worthy of this veneration. Utmost truthfulness and integrity are required. Calculations about worldly power must not come in the way. The Catholic Church surely would benefit, not lose out, if it honors Truth and gives up its claim that there is no salvation outside the Church. Truth cannot be cheated; neither can it be contained in a book. Truth is what we basically are. Hindus, whose religion is universal and all-encompassing, respect diverse traditions. They are one of the most cultured, gentle and peace-loving people on earth who live and let live, unless greatly provoked.

Holy Father, if you are serious about respecting other religions, the claim of exclusiveness must be scrapped and Hindus who have given to the world a deep philosophy and a great culture, must be respected. Many of us look forward to hearing truly good news from the Catholic Church under your stewardship. The main issue that plagues the Church is not whether women should be priests or whether divorcees can take Holy Communion. The main issue is the unfounded claim of exclusiveness regarding “salvation”. It divides humanity into us who are right and saved, versus them who are wrong and damned. Kindly drop this harmful claim and make your Pontificate truly memorable and beneficial for all humanity.

Yours sincerely,

Maria Wirth

• Posted as a registered letter to Pope Francis on 10th December 2013 from Puducherry, India

• Maria Wirth lives in Uttarakhand. She studied psychology at the University of Hamburg and her articles are published in various German and Indian media.

Goa Inquisition

Rig Vedic Polytheism and Punya Bhumi – Vijaya Rajiva

Gods venerate Mahalakshmi

Savinirmadi: Woman Scholar of Kolar (10th century)The link between Hindu monism and Rig Vedic polytheism establishes the richness of both dimensions: the Infinite Divinity and the infinite manifestations of this Divinity in the Gods and Goddesses that Hindus worship. – Dr Vijaya Rajiva

The Rig Vedic worship of many Gods and Goddesses provoked commentators from Abrahamic faiths (mainly Christians) to call the system polytheism (the worship of many gods). Many Hindus and respectful foreign students of Hindu philosophy now prefer the more neutral term, pantheism, to denote the Hindu pantheon, as polytheism was used in a derogatory way.

Modern Hindus are no longer intimidated by the polytheist label. Hindus believe that their land is punya bhumi (sacred earth) inhabited by the Gods and Goddesses of the universe, who are invited to special open air feasts (yagnas) and also housed in temples built for them by devotees. Perhaps no country in the world has so many temples, from north to south, east to west and no other religious tradition has invoked the presence of deities in the Vedic yagnas, and their successors in the Agama traditions of ritual and worship.

The Hindu bhakta knows that the Gods actually EXIST, but the educated Hindu elite are reluctant to admit to their heritage thanks to the massive indoctrination by the Macaulayian educational system and the missionary onslaught on Hinduism which denounces it as “pagan”, “polytheist”, etc. They contrast it with their ONE true god in whose name they have visited death and destruction on the planet.

Recent commentators from the Hindu side, such as Swami Devananda Saraswati (a Dashanami sannyasin) and earlier still, the philosopher-historian, the late Sita Ram Goel, have pointed out that the contemporary educated Hindu elite have been misled by their ill-conceived identification of monotheism and monism, and their inability to understand that the difference is crucial to understanding polytheism.

Sita Ram Goel prefers the word panentheism to polytheism (to describe Hinduism) since the former emphasises the special Hindu concept of ishta-devata, the special deity to whom a worshipper can relate to (a phenomenon unique to Hinduism).

The crucial difference between monotheism and monism is that the former believes in a ONE true god, and denounced the Gods of other faiths as “false gods”, whatever that means, for how can a God be “false” if the concept of God is real?

Monism believes in the infinite existence of the Divine, which is characterised by Existence, Consciousness and Bliss (Sat, Chit, Ananda). This is better known as Advaita Vedanta or Non-Dualism (unity, non-divisiveness). Its best articulation came with Adi Sankara. There are two other major Vedantas, the Qualified Non-dualism of Ramanuja and the Dualism of Madhva.

Modern practitioners of Monism are many, the most renowned being the Kanchi Mahaswami Chandrashekarendra Saraswati who specially highlighted the importance of the many Gods in Hinduism:

“… a yagna is making an oblation to a deity in the fire with the chanting of mantras. In a sense the mantras themselves constitute the form of the deities invoked. In another sense, the mantras, like the materials placed in the fire, are the sustenance of the celestials invoked….” (Hindu Dharma: Chapter on The Vedas).

Elsewhere, the Mahaswami remarked that the devout Hindu also sees the forms of the celestials appearing in the yagna fire.

These preliminary remarks are intended to emphasise the link between Hindu monism and Rig Vedic polytheism. It allows for an enriched Hindu polytheism where the devotee does not consider his / her chosen deity (ishta-devata) as the only true god, and does not anathematise the Gods of other faiths, as happens in Abrahamic monotheism. This is, of course, the difference between Abrahamic monotheism and Hindu polytheism.

Abrahamic monotheism must be rejected by Hindus for two reasons: 1) political, and 2) religious.

Politically, monotheism has been the source of conquest, violence and intolerance, both in Christianity and Islam. It is important that Hindus are always vigilant to this dimension in the interests of security. The security question arises not only in the crude context of everyday dangers such as the throwing of a severed cow’s head by miscreants inside a Hindu temple or the verbal abuse of Hindu scriptures and temples, but the equally looming danger of sophisticated inculturation. Here we perceive both Islamist and Christian attempts to find their monotheistic doctrines reflected in the Rig Veda, and the sophisticated attempts to wrest the “Rishi tradition” as they call it, from the Hindus, distort it and appropriate it for their own purposes.

In this project, the Vedas are no longer dismissed as “paganism”, but viewed as harbingers of the two monotheistic faiths. This can range from the crude attempt by evangelical Christian (and Islamic counterparts) to find references to Jesus in the Rig Veda, and / or references to the coming of the prophet and so on, to the more sophisticated attempts by scholars (mainly Catholic, but also such persons as Dr Zakir Naik) to find parallels in the thinking of the Veda and their own scriptures and beliefs.

In this way, inculturation, or the process by which another culture is absorbed—subsumed—into one’s own, has become a current trend. The aim, of course, is to eradicate the visited local culture. It is not some gentlemanly exercise or purely scholarly enterprise. The agenda is clearly there.

The link between Hindu monism and Rig Vedic polytheism establishes the richness of both dimensions: the Infinite Divinity and the infinite manifestations of this Divinity in the Gods and Goddesses that Hindus worship. One can theorise about this link, as have the great Hindu philosophers such as Adi Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva. But for our purposes it is important to keep in mind that these manifestations are the murtis (derided as “idols” by monotheists) that Hindus consecrate and install in temples and worship. Hence, the importance of murti reverence and temples in Sanatana Dharma.

When the barbarian invaders arrived, their first task was to destroy as many temples as they could. Thousands of Hindus lost their lives in defence of these temples. The shocking desecration of murtis by Islamists and Evangelicals continues to this day, though on a smaller scale, and mainly by Evangelicals and in some cases by Islamists.

If the underlying unity between monism and Hindu polytheism is not clearly understood, many Hindus get misled to believe that the ONE god of the monotheists is the same as satchidananda (Infinite Divinity) and go on to downgrade Vedic polytheism as an accidental / incidental feature of Hinduism which Hindus outgrew in their historical development and are now presumably moving towards the higher (sic) faith of Abrahamic monotheism. This is a profound mistake and merely parrots the narrative put forward by the ONE god-ists. Nor is the ONE god the same as the ishta-devata of Hindus. The ONE god is held by its followers to be the ONLY true god with all other Gods being FALSE Gods. Whereas the ishta-devata is only one among many Gods and each devotee is allowed to worship freely his / her own ishta-devata (who may be different from the kula devata or even the grama devata).

The difference is politically significant since the ONE god-ists are prone to intolerance, violence, conquest and proselytisation, as happened historically and continues with a renewed sense of urgency by the Evangelical today. Hinduism, thus, is always in danger of attack from the ONE god-ists. The punya bhumi is the land peopled by the Gods and Goddesses of the Rig Veda and many other divinities and eminences of the Indic tradition who are not mentioned specifically in the Rig Veda. It has to stay that way.

The further philosophical / religious / spiritual dimension of the satchidananda-polytheism link is that while Vedanta stresses the former aspect, the latter is important for the householder (grihastha). The four stages of life (varnashrama dharma) each have their own dharma. Even Adi Sankara, as far as is known, stressed that the householder must fulfill his / her duties before taking up the last stage of sannyasa. In this he was different from the Buddha, for whom the monastic life could be taken up at any time that the individual desired.

» Dr Vijaya Rajiva is a political philosopher who has taught at a Canadian university in Montreal.

Rudra Yagna

Theology of monotheism is disguised materialism – Sita Ram Goel

Moses & Jehovah

Sita Ram GoelOne may spend a lifetime searching this theology of Monotheism for a factual or rational proof of what it proclaims so pompously. But the search will be in vain. For, all the time it assumes what it wants to prove, and proves what it has already assumed. At its best, it is a syllogism of which the major as well as the minor premise are arbitrary assertions. – Sita Ram Goel

Let us for the time being forget the Freudian analysis of Christianity and Islam, though that analysis provides an intimate peep into the psyche of these primitive creeds. Let us have a look at the philosophy underlying their doctrines, and find out if they have any share in the spiritual seeking which is intrinsic to human beings and which stands systematized in Sanatana Dharma.

Christianity and Islam differ on many points of detail. But they share a common view of what they invoke as the creator and controller of the cosmos, as well as of the cosmic process. In the language of theology, they describe their basic dogma as Monotheism as opposed to what they denounce as Polytheism and Pantheism. It is this basic dogma which needs a philosophical probe deeper than that to which it has been subjected so far.

The term Monotheism casts such a magic spell on certain minds that they stop at its literal meaning—the concept of one God as opposed to many Gods. But the literal meaning tells us little, almost nothing, about its theological inspiration or its practical implications.

In the theology of Monotheism, God is extra-cosmic. He created the cosmos out of Nothing in order to demonstrate his almightiness and, consequently, kept himself outside and above the Cosmos. There is nothing in God’s creation which can partake of God’s divinity. The elements and forces of Nature are devoid of any divinity whatsoever. The sky is empty space, and the Sun and the Moon and the Stars are only bright spots in that sky. Matter is absolutely material, and animals and birds are mere brutes unless they are domesticated when they show some improvement. Trees are timber, and the flowers embody no more than colour and fragrance. Air and water and fire and earth are what they are, and point to nothing beyond.

It is only man who is placed on a higher pedestal because the Almighty God blew his own breath into the handful of dust which he used in order to manufacture Adam, the male ancestor of the human race. Woman cannot share man’s status because Eve, the female ancestor of the human race, was carved out of Adam’s rib without the benefit of God’s breath being blown into it. Man is thus the best of God’s creation, the ashraf-ul-makhlûqãt.

But it is an unpardonable folly and a cardinal sin for man to fancy that he shares even an iota of God’s divinity. The only privilege which man enjoys as God’s best creation is to lord it over the lower creation which God has made for man’s use and benefit. Man can exploit the material resources of the earth in whatever way he pleases. Man can eat every bird and fish and animal for God has created them specifically for man’s consumption. And man can marry and divorce and keep as his concubines any number of women, at any stage of his three score and ten years. (The monogamy we find in Christianity is not prescribed by the Christian scripture. It was an institution which it borrowed from the pagan Romans.)

As man is likely to be carried away by the freedom of will which has been bestowed on him, and forget his creator, God has been sending prophets from time to time to restrain him from worship of false gods and philosophical speculation, and to turn his thoughts towards a higher purpose—obedience to God’s will as revealed through the prophets. The complete code of such do’s and don’ts has been conveyed by God in his final revelation—the New Testament according to Christianity and the Quran according to Islam—through his only son who is Jesus for Christianity or the last prophet who is Muhammad for Islam.

The supreme purpose of man’s life is to worship this extra-cosmic God with whom man cannot communicate directly, lead a life of piety according to rules laid down in the final revelation which man cannot question, and seek the intercession of the only son or the last prophet whose claims man cannot scrutinize in terms of his natural reason or normal moral sense. If man can thus bid good-bye to his critical faculty and conscience, “the seats of the Satan”, he can hope for an eternal heaven at the end of the only life God has granted to him. But if man wavers, or questions, or criticizes, or tries to understand, or judge these mysteries by using his own mind or moral sense, he becomes bound for an eternal hell from which there is no escape, and where the torment turns worse and worse with the ticking of every moment.

Whether all this applies to woman as well has been a point of dispute among Christian and Muslim theologians. Nevertheless, this much is clear that Islam at least assigns the same role to woman in heaven as she is expected to play on this earth—to serve man in servile obedience and to provide sexual pleasure to her male master. The only concession extended to woman after she enters heaven is to be spared the pains of maternity and old age. She becomes a houri endowed with eternal youth and unfading beauty. In Christianity, woman is essentially a temptress who leads man to hell. Her role in the hereafter has not been clearly defined.

An added duty of all true believers is to band together in a Church or an Ummah for propagating the only true religion, and to prop up the only son or the last prophet by all means including force and fraud. The fraternity thus formed is expected to invite all unbelievers to get converted to the only true creed, and to declare a crusade or jihãd against all those who refuse to be persuaded peacefully for saving themselves from eternal perdition and for securing an eternal heaven. The Church is expected to secure the aid of its secular arm, and the Ummah is expected to convert itself into a theocratic state in order to carry forward the struggle.

There is no limit to what these holy wars can legitimately do to the unbelievers except the limit imposed by power equations at any time. The least that the wars should do at the first available opportunity is to destroy the false Gods of the unbelievers, and the unholy temples where those Gods are worshipped. The holy warriors are under no obligation at all to prove that they are better human beings as compared to those they are expected to convert, or kill, or enslave, or subjugate. Their only qualification is that they believe in the only son or the last prophet, and follow the only true religion.

Monotheism is disguised materialism

One may spend a lifetime searching this theology of Monotheism for a factual or rational proof of what it proclaims so pompously. But the search will be in vain. For, all the time it assumes what it wants to prove, and proves what it has already assumed. At its best, it is a syllogism of which the major as well as the minor premise are arbitrary assertions.

Is there a proof that a being called Almighty God exists, and controls the cosmos? The answer is that the only son or the last prophet has said so. Who has sent this son or appointed this prophet to tell us about God and his doings? The answer is that it is God who has proclaimed the son or the prophet. What is the proof that what the son or the prophet pronounces as a divine revelation comes from God? The answer is that the revelation says so. And so on, it is an endless exercise in casuistry with no reference to human experience or human reason at any point.

In the last analysis, God is really a superfluity in this system of thought. A time comes when God imparts his final revelation to the only son or the last prophet, and retires to a well-deserved rest after entrusting the fate of his world as well as of his creatures to the keeping of the son or the prophet. In due course, the son or the prophet also is dead and gone after bequeathing his monopoly over truth and virtue to the Church or the Ummah. The Church or the Ummah, in turn, is dominated by a single man or a clique that can control and use a mighty military machine which has been built in the meanwhile. In the final round, it all ends up as imperialist aggression against other people in which a veneer of religious verbiage is retained in order to sustain the self-righteousness of the aggressor. The idols of the conquered people are destroyed and their temples pillaged, not because their Gods have been found to be false but because an imperialist always aims at destroying the self-respect of a people upon whom he wants to secure a stranglehold. It is in the nature of imperialism to indulge in cultural genocide on the slightest pretext, or at the first favourable opportunity.

The plight of the Allah of Islam is portrayed by Shykh Muhammad Iqbal when he puts the following question to Allah in his Shikwã: “Tujhko ma’lûm hai letã thã kuî nãm tirã / Quwwat-i-bãzû-i-muslim nê kiyã kãm tirã (Do you know of anyone who bothered about you before we came forward? It was the muscle-power of the Muslim which came to your rescue).” The God of the Bible is in no better position. He has been held aloft all along by Christian bayonets or Christian bags of money.

History is witness that Christianity as well as Islam have always expanded by the power of the sword, and seldom by power of any truth contained in their scriptures. In the words of Iqbal again, “Par tire nãm pê talwãr uThãî kisnê? Kãt kar rakh diyê kuffãr kê lashkar kisnê (But who did draw their swords in defence of your name and fame? Who was it that slaughtered the armies of the infidels for your sake?).” It is obvious that the Allah of Islam had to be thrust down people’s throats at the point of the sword. Otherwise poor Allah was a non-existent entity which no one was prepared to affirm. The same can be said of the Jehovah of Christianity, though no Christian poet has had the honesty of Iqbal to come out with the naked truth in a frank and forthright manner.

It is small wonder, therefore, that this politics of power masquerading as religion, cannot understand the language of spirituality which speaks in terms of a Divinity secret in everything, everywhere, and which enables human beings to dwell constantly in the company of Gods and Goddesses. This politics is too busy amassing wealth and power and pleasures of a material world to care for things which belong to the realm of Spirit.

Pained by the poverty of Muslims and the decay of the power of Islam, Iqbal has lamented: “Qahar tõ yêh hai ke kãfir ko milê hûr-o-qusûr / Aur bechãrê musalmãñ kõ faqat wa’da-i hûr (The terrible tragedy is that the infidels live in palaces and make love to houris in this life, while the poor Muslim has to remain content only with the promise of houris hereafter).” This is the highest aspiration to which this venerable Allamah of Islam could ever attain. It speaks volumes about Islam as a religion. Christianity too aspires towards no goal higher than this. Only its spokesmen are not so crude (or honest) in putting forward its case.

Hindu society has not only to recover the source of its own psyche which speaks in the language of Gods and Goddesses, it has also to realize that the psyche of Christianity and Islam hides vulgar materialism and imperialist ambition under a welter of high-sounding verbiage. – Excerpted from Defence of Hindu Society, New Delhi, 19??

Monotheism : No second opinion!

About the ungodlike Abrahamic god – Michel Danino

Prof Michel Danino

I find it highly symbolic that Judaism should have been born in blood and fear, not out of love for its founding deity. It was a radical, unprecedented departure from the ancient world cultures. Naturally, it did not stop there and went on to find more fertile soils in Christianity and Islam. – Prof Michel Danino

Our first task … is to examine the Abrahamic concept of God at the root of the three monotheistic religions: Yahweh (later Jehovah) or Allah. I do not refer here to more ancient Greek, Norse or Celtic gods since, as we know, they lost the war against God with a capital “G”. (Some of them are now striving to revive, but even if they partly succeed, they will be little more than pale replicas of their original selves.)

The first thing that strikes the discerning Indian reader of the Old Testament, especially the Exodus, in which Jehovah first introduces himself to Moses under that name, is his ungodlike character. Jehovah is admittedly jealous: the second of the Ten Commandments reads, “You shall have no other gods before me,” while the third explicitly forbids the making and worship of any idols, “for I am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers”. Jehovah does speak as often of punishment as he does of sin, and periodically goes into a state of “fierce anger”, promising the most complete devastation of the Hebrews who reject him. Not content with cursing his reluctant followers, he also curses nation after nation, and finally the earth itself, which, as I pointed out earlier, he holds responsible for man’s sins: “The day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it”. (Isaiah, 13:9). In fact, he is so obsessed with sin that one looks in vain in his oppressive berating and legislating for any hint of a higher spirituality, such as we find in the Upanishads or the Gita. Contrast his jealousy with Krishna’s insistence on spiritual freedom: “Whatever form of me any devotee with faith desires to worship, I make that faith of his firm and undeviating’ (Gita, 7.21), or again: “Others … worship me in my oneness and in every separate being and in all my million universal faces” (9:15). But the god of the Bible and the Koran will have none of this catholicity.

If Jehovah had stopped there we might have found him to be simply a foul-tempered and libidinous god; after all, some Puranic gods too have such defects, although they usually retain a sense of their limits and compassion of which Jehovah is spotlessly guiltless. But he has a plan, he means business and knows that coercion alone can establish his rule: when the Hebrews over whom he is so keen to hold sway go back to their former worship of a “golden calf”, he orders through Moses that each of the faithful should “kill his brother and friend and neighbor” (Exodus 32:37). Instructions which were promptly complied with, for we are informed that 3,000 were killed on that fateful day; to crown his punishment, Jehovah “struck the people with a plague.”

Sri AurobindoI find it highly symbolic that Judaism should have been born in blood and fear, not out of love for its founding deity. As Sri Aurobindo put it, “The Jew invented the God-fearing man; India the God-knower and God-lover.” It probably took centuries for the old cults to disappear altogether, and a stream of prophets who sought to strike terror into the hearts of the Israelites. It was a radical, unprecedented departure from the ancient world cultures. Naturally, it did not stop there and went on to find more fertile soils in Christianity and Islam: earlier, Jehovah was content with being the god of the Hebrews alone; now, reborn in the new creeds, his ambition extended to the whole earth.

Increasingly aware of this cruel, irritable, egocentric and exclusivist character of Jehovah, many Western thinkers, specially from the eighteenth century onwards, rejected his claim to be the supreme and only god. Voltaire, one of the first to expose the countless inconsistencies in the Bible, could hardly disguise how it filled him with “horror and indignation at every page”. In particular, he found the plethora of laws dictated by Jehovah “barbaric and ridiculous”. The U.S. revolutionary leader and thinker Thomas Paine wrote of the Old Testament in his Age of Reason:

Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon that the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served  to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.

Because a few intellectuals had the courage to state the obvious, the power of Christianity was greatly reduced in the West. Yet I have always marveled that Indians should learn about Christianity neither from those bold Western thinkers nor from their own inquiry, but from bigots who continue to pretend that the Age of Enlightenment never happened. With the growth of materialistic science, in particular Darwinian evolution, such views which were revolutionary at the time of Voltaire, became widespread. Bernard Shaw, for example, described the Bible god as “a thundering, earth quaking, famine striking, pestilence launching, blinding, deafening, killing, destructively omnipotent Bogey Man.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the courageous U.S. pioneer of woman rights movement, wrote in 1898, “Surely the writers [of the Old Testament] had a very low idea of the nature of their God. They make Him not only anthropomorphic, but of the very lowest type, jealous and revengeful, loving violence rather than mercy. I know of no other books which so fully teach the subjection and degradation of woman.”  Mark Twain put it in his own way: “Our Bible reveals to us the character of our god with minute and remorseless exactness. The portrait is substantially that of a man—if one can imagine a man charged and overcharged with evil impulses far beyond the human limit…. It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere. It makes Nero an angel of light and leading by contrast.”  On another occasion he added, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” Freud, seeing in Jehovah an all too human creation, subjected him to psychoanalysis—a dream of a subject for a psychoanalyst. Aldous Huxley called the Old Testament “a treasure trove of barbarous stupidity [full of] justifications for every crime and folly.” In fact,  Huxley traced the “wholesale massacres” perpetrated by Christianity to Jehovah’s “wrathful, jealous, vindictive character, just as he attributed “the wholesale slaughter” of Buddhists and Hindus by invading Muslims to their devotion for a “despotic person”. Albert Einstein said, “I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own—a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.”

But is that all there is to the Abrahamic god? Are we simply faced with a man-made demon or the product of some fevered brain?  If you look at Jehovah in the light of Indian experience, it is striking that he has all the characteristic of an asura. Recall for a moment a being such as Hiranyakashipu: did he not, too, forbid all other cults? Did he not order that he alone should be worshiped as the supreme god? Did he not use fear and violence to try and coerce Prahlada? That he was stopped by a Divine manifestation, like many other asuras eager to possess this world, is another story; the point is that we find here the same seed of pride and cruelty as in Jehovah.

Now, to pinpoint Jehovah’s identity we must remember that he himself explains how “Yahweh” is a new name to the Hebrews: “By that name I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 3:14 – 15, 6:3). But in the Old Testament Jehovah does not reveal his earlier name; it is only the early Christian Gnostic tradition, which was brutally suppressed by the growing orthodox school, that provides us with an answer—or rather two. In the Gnostic Gospels which survived centuries of persecution Jehovah is named either Samael, which means (appropriately) “the god of the blind”, or Ialdabaoth, “the son of chaos”. Thus one of the texts contain this revealing passage:

Ialdabaoth became arrogant in spirit, boasted himself over all those who were below him, and explained, “I am father, and God, and above me there is no one.”  His mother, hearing him speak thus, cried out against him, “Do not lie, Ialdabaoth; for the father of all, the primal Anthropos, is above you.

So not only was Jehovah not the Supreme God, but he also had a mother! For the Gnostics, like the Indians, refused to portray God as male only; God has to be equally female—and ultimately everything.

Another text , in the Secret Book of John, asks pertinently:

By announcing [that he is a jealous God] he indicated that another God does exist; for if there were no other one, of whom he be jealous?

In fact Jehovah is viewed in the Gnostic Gospels as no more than a demiurge or a subordinate deity—exactly as asuras are in Indian tradition. The French novelist Anatole France made use of apocryphal Gospels (rather the new fragments known in his time, for he wrote a few decades before the Nag Hammadi finds). In his perceptive novel The Revolt of the Angels, one of the rebellious angels depicts Jehovah thus:

I no longer think he is the one and only God; for a long time he himself did not believe so: he was a polytheist at first. Later on; his pride and flattery of his followers turned him into a monotheist…. And in fact, rather than a god he is a vain and ignorant demiurge. Those who, like me, know his true nature, call him “Ialdabaoth”…. Having seized a miniscule fragment of the universe, he has sown it with pain and death.

Now contrast this notion of God as tyrannical ruler wholly separate from his creation with the Indian notion of an all-encompassing, all-pervasive, all-loving Divine essence. In the language of the Upanishads:

He is the secret Self in all existence…. Eternal, pervading in all things and impalpable, that which is Imperishable … the Truth of things…. All this is Brahman alone, all this magnificent Universe.

If Jehovah depicts a radical departure from the ancient worships, it is in that he is “wholly other”, as Huxley puts it. Because of the unbridgeable gulf between him and his creation, no Jew or Christian would dare to declare, “I am Jehovah”, no  Muslim would dream of saying, “I am Allah.” But to the Hindu, so’ham asmi, “He am I”, or tat twam asi, “You are That”, is the most natural thing in the world—it is, in truth, the very first fact of the world. Again, can Christian parents christen their son “Jehovah” or Muslim parents name theirs “Allah” in the way a Hindu child can be called “Maheshwari”, “Purushottama” or “Parameshwara”?

Clearly, thus, if we use a single word—“God”—for such widely dissimilar concepts, we will land ourselves in total confusion. “God is one”, is perhaps, in the Vedantic sense that all is ultimately one, because all is ultimately Divine, and yet Hindu inquiry always discerned a whole hierarchy of beings, not all equally true or luminous:  a rakshasa, for instance, cannot be equated with a Krishna. Some may object to calling the Biblical or Koranic god an asura, but I use the word in the original sense of a mighty god who comes to his fall owing to ambition or pride. Moreover, the Indian approach has always claimed absolute freedom to inquire into every aspect of Divinity, from the most personal to the most transcendental: if the Abrahamic god happens to have the attributes of an asura rather than those of a supreme Reality, why should be look away from that essential difference? — Excerpt from Michel Danino’s book Indian Culture and India’s Future, via IndiaFacts, 17 December 2015

» French-born Prof Michel Danino is a historian and the author of The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati and Indian Culture and India’s Future. He used to teach at IIT Gandhinagar and is a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Yahweh / Jehovah / Allah