Though claiming to act from and for “the love of Jesus,’’ Christianity has brought suffering and destruction to individuals, communities and cultures in almost every region of the world. This collection of papers by Indian and foreign scholars, which spans two millennia and includes Europe, America Asia and Australia, does not focus on Christianity’s teachings or theology, but on its actual expressions in the world.
Just as histories of colonialism have been largely written by the colonial powers, in effect erasing the testimony of the colonized, most histories of Christian standpoint as a matter of course. This book Endeavour’s to reverse the perspective and asserts the right of the countless victims of Christianity to be remembered, and, when still possible, to be heard.
The book’s 45 essays do not demonize Christianity; rather, the bear withness in memory of the millions it demonized and martyred for no fault of theirs. And they hold a lesson for the surviving vulnerable cultures and communities in India and elsewhere.
This volume presents a few aspects and dimensions of Christianity, in particular Indian Christianity. It will soon have a companion volume, Christianity: Proselytism and Conversion, with a focus in India. The contributors to these two volumes were selected on the basis of their authentic study of the concerned aspects; there are also articles by authors who have a deep insight into the concerned areas as a result of their encounter with Christianity in actual practice. This volume is meant not only for the specialist intellectual but also for the ordinary man who is interested in knowing about Christianity, which is increasingly confronting him in his everyday life. In short, it gives an academic understanding of the subject of Christianity in India and also helps as a guideline to deal with the Christian experience in an objective manner, keeping the widest interest of the country as a whole.
The Vivekananda Kendra felt it necessary to bring out this volume on Christianity not because there is any dearth of literature on this subject in our libraries. On the contrary, such material is abundant at the present juncture. But it has been written by authors who are keen to present Christianity from a particular angle and with particular motive. There are writings by self-confessed missionaries, by acknowledged supporters of Christian imperialism and there are also writings from self-appointed secularists. Even so called objective historians have been hesitant to come out openly and call a spade a spade. Their hesitation is mostly due to the fear of organized, hostile criticism which will not only adversely affect the book market but also make them vulnerable to charges of being communal. Unpleasant truths are very often played sown or distorted, if not totally suppressed. The total outcome of all these is that an Indian student of Christianity finds it difficult to get the truth which is reliable and useful.
One justification for bringing out this volume is that a lot of misunderstanding has been created by interested missionary writers and Christian propagandists about the origin of Christianity in India and also about the methods Christian missionaries have used to propagate their religion in the country. One example may ne cited here. It is widely propagated through writings which claim to be authentic that Christians came to India in the first century AD through St. Thomas, one of the twelve direct disciples of Jesus Christ. It is openly propagated through a wide range of historical and other writings powerfully backed by oral tradition and pastoral teachings that St. Thomas landed in Chowghat near Guruvayur in Kerala in AD 52. They go on to say that St. Thomas converted the Namboodiri Brahmins who were engaged in the worship of God in the Palayoor Shiva temple, by showing miracles. That was, according to them, the beginning of Christianity in Kerala. Based on this theory they trace back the history of Christianity in Kerala. Based on this theory they trace back the history of Christianity in Kerala to nearly 2000 year ago, a statement which has no historical backing whatsoever. Despite the fact that there is no credible historical evidence to uphold this theory, as a result of organized massive propaganda by the clergy over a long period of time, there is a general belief that the advent of St. Thomas in the first century AD and his success in converting Namboodiris who form the highest strata of Hindus society is a fact of history. Even historian have been so overawed by the massive propaganda that they prefer to keep silent rather than court unpopularity. Even authentic historic documents whch at one time widely disputed this claim are not currently in vogue. Textbooks also have been so fabricated that the myth is treated as real history.
But, of late, there has been a funny twist to the whole episode. Some “eminent” clergymen and intellectuals of their persuasion have floated a new theory. According to them, Hinduism come to Kerala centuries after Christianity had its origin in the first century AD. They argue that Namboodiris came and settled down in Kerala during the sixth or the seventh century AD as part of the Aryan colonization, whereas by that time Christianity had a flourishing history in Kerala for about six centuries. So, from the point of antiquity, Christianity is anterior to Hinduism by many centuries.
What is really interesting is that neither theory has any historical evidence to support it. It is all a matter of weighing the comparative advantage and disadvantage of the two theories to the spread well as status of Christianity in Kerala. Whether the claim of high-class Namoodiris to have been the first converts to Christianity is more prestigious or the antiquity Christianity over Hinduism is more prestigious is the crucial issue. History and truth are the casualties. Behind the smokescreen of conflicting theories, mythology has been elevated of history.
Along with this, another parallel mythology of St. Thomas having been murdered by the Brahmins of Tamil Nadu and the origin of St. Thome church on the St. Thomas mount in Chennai where his martyrdom is supposed have taken place is propagated in such a planned and persistent manner that a large number of people blindly believe it.
There has been another cunning and calculated move by persons placed in the high rungs of clerical hierarchy to manipulate evidence and contrive to establish the antiquity of Christianity in Tamil Nadu. The Church has made a really ingenious attempt to prove to the world that the great Tamil Saint Tiruvalluvar was a Christian missionary and Tirukkural a Christian scripture. A Brahmin linguist was hired to manipulate evidences and distort factual materials for this purpose. Huge sums of money passed hands and theories were cooked up; both the scheming Bishop Arulppa and the greedy Brahmin even visited Rome to place the manufactured discovery before the pope for this approval. Later, the whole dishonest endeavour went awry; that is a different matter. But the entire history of this shameless transaction has been widely published. May such unholy attempts have been brought to light, which shows how highly placed clerical personalities have unscrupulously tried fabricate history for spreading Christianity in a systematic manner.
The bogus claim of the Christian antiquity dating from the time of Saint Thomas’s mythical arrival in Kerala stands exposed by an irrefutable historical fact. No Christian literature either in Malayalam, Tamil or Sanskrit is available till the late eighteenth century, which is proof enough to reject totally any Christian impact on Kerala’s literary field. Had Namboodiris been converted in the first century as the claim goes, there would have been no dearth of Christian literature written by them right from that. They were great scholars and prolific writers on religious and cultural subjects at all times. There would have been at least some literature dealing with Christianity, just as there are abundant literary works about Vaishnava, Shiva and Tantric religious subjects.
The total absence of any such Christian literature even during the medieval Bhakti period, when there was a flourishing crop of Malayalam literature like Ramayana, Mahabharata and Sri Mahabhagavata, conclusively proves that whatever Christianity existed in Kerala at that time was only on the margins of social life with hardly any recognition from the mainstream and without any worthy contribution from their side this deafening silence cannot be compensated by flimsy claims put out as a result of after though.
Ordained priests have abandoned their Christian names and adopted respected name of Hindu sannyasins only to confuse Hindus in order to canvass their support for the missionary activities. Some even put on saffron clothes and made open claims to the effect that they had been initiated into sannyasa by the President of the Sri Ramakrishna mission in strict Hindus tradition. When officially exposed, they tried to wriggle out by means of dishonest excuses but still clung on to their dubious ways.
Another claim that they parade in order to win acceptability among the Hindus is that Christianity is a religion of love and compassion and their main channel of activity is service of the poor and the deprived. But the true history of Christianity all over the world, including India, shows, beyond a shadow of doubt, that missionaries have indulged in cruelty and violence for spreading their religion. The Goan inquisition is well documented and no one can deny or disprove it. The destruction of temples has also been recorded. Francis Xavier who was declared a saint has history of the mot cruel sort of violence used for spreading Christianity in the coastal areas of India. Letters written by Francis Xavier himself to the king of Portugal have been published wherein himself to the king of Portugal have been published wherein he publicly declared, “I have no words to express the joy which I felt at seeing a number of temples destroyed by their erstwhile worshippers after they were converted to Christianity.” Till a few years ago, at the St. Thomas church of Palayoor (near Guruvayur in Trichur district), there was a large board publicly displayed which said, “Here once stood a Shiva temple. St. Thomas after converting Namboodiri Brahmins, turned the temple into a church. Later on, the temple was pulled down and the present church was built over it.’’ This is probably the earliest public admission of St. Thomas Christians pulling down an established Hindu temple in order to build a church. This is not an isolated incident.
It was not only poor and the neglected or the outcaste and untouchables of Hindu society whom the missionaries targeted for conversion, though that was their loudly proclaimed objective. They had another strategy of selectively approaching important personalities who wield great influence over the society by their moral and spiritual stature and leadership qualities. They mad persistent efforts to establish contacts and slowly win over such persons to Christianity. Sri Narayana Guru, the saint and reformer of Kerala was one such with whom they engaged in a religious dialogue. Similarly, they made serious to appeal to Mahatma Gandhi’s religious sympathy and admiration for the teachings of Christ. Needless to say that their efforts had no impact whatsoever on these stalwarts. But what is significant is that such silly efforts were made with the firm conviction that these great soul are doomed to internal hell if they do not get baptized and that it was their bounden Christian duty to save them.
The outcaste and the untouchable were en masse converted under the pretext that were inhumanly treated by the upper caste Hindus and their salvation here and hereafter would be assured if they become Christians. That was the carrot dangled before them. But it was only ploy. The converted Dalits remained in the same plight with all their social and economic disabilities unrelieved. Even separate churches and separate sitting arrangement were provided for them, and equal social status – intermarriage and interdining, for instance – was denied. Even today, these deplorable conditions continue to prevail except nominally. The disillusioned Dalits clamour for better treatment. What the Church does is to bring pressure on the Government to give them special reservation and all other benefits to which the Hindus Dalits are constitutionally entitled. The hypocrisy and double standard are obvious.
Whatever has been stated above by way of explanation for selecting the subject of Christianity for this volume should be taken in the proper perspective. It is at all not meant to condemn or even belittle the greatness and glory of Jesus Christ whom Swami Vivekananda as also the Hindu society in general hold in very high esteem. Christ’s claim to greatness is unquestionable. The light he shed through his simple words and equally simple life is on a par with that of other great incarnations of the world. Swamiji called him “Messenger of God.’' But unfortunately, the Church did not do justice to his divine greatness. He universal personality of Christ was cribbed, cabined and confined within the narrow walls or a rigorously dogmatic and strictly regimented body of the Church. Even great Christian scholars have confessed that the history of the Church is largely a negation and distortion of Christ’s teachings. That is why Swami Abhedananda, a prominent co-disciple of Swami Vivekananda delivered a lecture in America on ‘’Why a Hindu accepts Christ and rejects Churchianity.
On radical difference between the Hindus and the Christian veneration for Christ and worth keeping in mind when we think of the role of Christ and his message in the Indian context. This has been beautifully brought out by the late revered Swami Ranganathanandaji in his commendable lecture, ‘’The Christ we adore.’’ After narration briefly the salient features and events of Christ’s life and Swamiji adds, ‘’These are, then, some of the salient features of the life and teachings of this arresting personality, whom the Hindus spontaneously recognize as a divine incarnation. As we have seen, his life is full of sweetness and tenderness, tragedy and pathos ; it is spiritually inspiring. To us in India however, the end just a tragedy, bereft of any special spiritual beauty. It is the life that is, in our view, spiritually beautiful and elevating. The deaths of our own spiritual beautiful and Sri Krishna, were near tragic ; but we did not build our religion our religion on them. India treats the manner of their deaths most casually, while she seeks to build her religion on their lives and teachings….’’ (The Christ we adore, p. 39-40) Christ, even if he had not been crucified would have been as dear to the Hindu heart because if he life he lived and the message he delivered. But, for the West, without the tragedy of crucifixion, Christ’s life would have been stale and sterile, devoid of the saving value of his martyrdom. After all, the West is brought up in the tradition of the pathos of the Greek tragedy. To the Hindu, all life and the whole world is the Lila of the Blissful God. This is one of the factors that keep ‘’Christ crucified’’ away from the Hindus mind.
I fervently hope and sincerely believe that these two volumes will bring a clearer, better and more authentic understanding about Christianity in India and will Ultimately pave the way for a better and more cordial understanding between all concerned.
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