We should not have religious debates among Hindus, Christians and Muslims
I have often wondered why people want to debate their religious beliefs. Beliefs are essentially unverified, and some would say unverifiable opinions. The problem arises when some people seek to establish their beliefs as historical facts and, worse when they seek to impose these on others. Facts to do require anyone to believe in them. One does not say, for example, that he believes in the law of gravity. On the other hand, to say a person can physically rocket himself beyond the earth’s atmosphere defying the law of gravity, and remaining intact requires belief.
All beliefs imply doubt, and it is possible that persons are so adamant and uncompromising in their beliefs because the day-to-day reality they live with poses a challenge to their beliefs. Perhaps, also, this is why they need numbers for the more they get others to believe in what they believe, the more validated and secured they feel in their belief. Therefore, it strikes me very strange that people are calling for a debate on their beliefs. Debate implies facts, scepticism, doubt, reason, the possibility of correction, and the falsifiability of one’s proposition. Beliefs would have none of this.
Let us look at the point Ramdath Jagessar raised, the bodily return of Jesus Christ, one of the foundational beliefs of Christianity. As far as I can tell this belief is held as a literal fact along with the one of Jesus’ ascension after he was believed to have risen from the dead after three days and three nights. On this matter of the resurrection the scholars of the Jesus Seminar, a gathering of the leading Bible scholars in the United States, that met in the 1990s to consider the historicity of Jesus and what he may and may not have actually said in the Gospels, have concluded there is no evidence for the resurrection (that they looked for such evidence itself is quite strange) and that 80% of the sayings ascribed to Jesus were not spoken by him. Other Christian scholars have also questioned the period of Jesus’ internment: 3 days and 3 nights showing that the time he spent in the tomb does not add up to 72 hours. He was put in the tomb on a Friday afternoon and on Monday morning he was not there.
Where is Heaven in the universe?
Further, it is suggested that Jesus has not yet returned as promised even though his immediate disciples thought the return was imminent, because he may not have yet arrived at his destination – heaven – depending on where it is located. If, let us say, heaven is somewhere beyond the observable universe which at current NASA estimate is 93 billion light-years in diameter, and assuming that Jesus ascended at the speed of light, he has travelled less than 2,000 light-years. In fact, he is still very much in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, which is estimated at 100,000 light-years in diameter. As Bishop Shelby Spong has sarcastically put is Jesus seems to be in perpetual orbit.
In examining the ascension in terms of what we now know about the universe and space travel, Bishop Spong wondered how was it possible for Jesus to exist the earth’s atmosphere without burning up. Rockets, travelling at high speeds but nowhere near the speed of light have to be equipped with a special protective shield to prevent them from disintegrating on account of atmospheric friction. What sort of protective shield did Jesus have?
This is what literalism does to religious beliefs. But who are we to interpret Christian beliefs? We have no choice but to deal with them in the same literal sense in which they are foisted on us. At least in Hindu “mythology”, we are told that Hanuman’s body was a vajra body, vajra being the hardest known metal at the time. I say therefore that those who are calling for debating their religious beliefs really need to know on what ground they stand. These are just some passing, light observations.
Christians see Hindus as devil worshippers
More seriously, I have always wondered why Christians teach that Hindus are devil worshippers which is something we hear all the time in the modern-day Billy Graham type of CRUSADES. It seems strange because you can’t read the Bible and not be confronted with the devil/satan, as in the case of Jesus taking out the demons from a man who said his name was Legion, interpreted as 6,000. (The fact that he cast the demons in a herd of swine estimated at 2,000 all of which dashed to the sea and perished raises other grave concerns, the least of which are ethical). We see the daily drama on our TVs as evangelists cast out demons.
So I decided to read up on the matter rather than come to any uninformed conclusion. Two books I have looked at for now are (1) An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the chief exorcist at the Vatican. Here are some excerpts from the book.
“A Christology that ignores Satan is crippled and will never understand the magnitude of redemption” pg. 25). “It is impossible to understand the salvific action of Christ if we ignore the destructive action of Satan” (pp. 2-25). “Modern theologians (like Bishop Spong?) who identify Satan with the abstract idea of evil are completely mistaken. Theirs is true heresy; that it, it is open in contract with the Bible, the Fathers (never the Mothers?) and the Magisterium of the Church|” (pg. 27). “Whoever denies Satan also denies sin and can no longer understand the actions of Christ” (pg. 27).
The second book, The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics is by Elaine Pagels, Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Reading this book one sees what a useful concept Satan turned out to be especially as Christianity found the need to demonise Hindus and Hinduism. I will be happy to share my reading later.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Swami Aksharananda received his Ph.D. in Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA, and is the Founder and Principal of the prestigious Saraswati Vidya Niketan (Private Hindu College) in Guyana. email@example.com
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