Monday, January 28, 2013

Hindu Fundamentalism

Hindu fundamentalism is alive and well in India. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India's "Persecution Watch Yearly Report", there were 131 acts of violence against Christians in 2012.

Here is Tamil Nadu's score card.
21 February - In Kanhagad, Kasargod, alleged Hindu extremists in Kanhagad, Kasargod verbally abused Pastor Titus Ignatius Kapan and his children and damaged his car because of their faith in Christ.
2 April - In Akkarapettai,Nagapattinam ,anti-Christian group tore up Bibles and gospel literature in the homes of children attending Scriptures Union's Centre and asked one Christian family to vacate the house after they admitted they believe in Christ. The anti-Christian group have also locked 12 Christian houses for three days.
11 April – In Emapur,Villupuram, alleged Hindu extremists led by Balaji beat up Pastor Caleb when he was on his way to preach the gospel. They further pressurized the pastor's landlord to vacate the room as the Christians have been conducting the worship service in the house.
12 April – In Dalmiya Puram, Trichy, an intruder disrupted a prayer meeting led by Pastor Y.S. John of the Indian Pentecostal Church and stabbed a Christian, John Britto who tried to calm the intruder and severely injured him.
21April – In Paganeri, alleged Hindu extremists beat Christians, burned their Bibles and tracts, seized their vehicle key and destroyed their megaphone.
30 April – In Banglawmedu, alleged Hindu extremists barged into the VBS class conducted by Pastor V. Neethirajan from the church of God Ministry, manhandled them and ordered them to stop the VBS immediately. The Bible School was cancelled. 
20 June – In Kesavan, Puthur, alleged Kanyakumari, Hindu extremists barged into Bethel Prayer House, beat up the worshippers, destroyed furnitures and equipments. Pastor David and Assistant Pastor Babu were hospitalised for five days in Thakkli Government hospital. 
23 June – In Vanagiri Sirkali, Nagapattinam, alleged armed Hindu extremists burnt and plundered four buildings of the Christians. 15 people were injured, including two in critical condition. 
26 July – In Midiakia, Baliguda, Kanhhamal, miscreants desecrated a Christian cemetery. The cross on each of the grave has been removed. 
5 August - In Marthandam, Kanyakumari , Hindu extremists beat Pastor Robinson Thankamani as he was going to his church to conduct a prayer meeting.
26 August - In Nadaikavu, Kanyakumari, alleged Hindu extremists killed a Christian, Edwin Raj, 35 years old, after barging into the worship meeting of Church of South India (CSI).
I could have sworn that Kasargod was in Kerala, not Tamil Nadu!

But all is not bad.
In a significant move towards religious freedom, the Himachal Pradesh High Court held that section 4 of the Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 and Rules 3 and 5 of the corresponding Rules as unconstitutional in a petition filed by the Evangelical Fellowship of India and ANHAD. 
The concerned section and rules pertained to a convertee being obligated under the Act to give prior notice of a religious conversion and being subjected to a mandatory state inquiry.
Recognising that such state intrusion is violative of the fundamental right of privacy safeguarded under the right to life in the constitution, the court held that “A person's belief or religion is something very personal to him. The State has no right to ask a person to disclose what is his personal belief. The only justification given is that public order requires that notice be given. We are of the considered view that in case of a person changing his religion and notice being issued to the so called prejudicially affected parties, chances of the convertee being subjected to physical and psychological torture cannot be ruled out. The remedy proposed by the State may prove to be more harmful than the problem.”
The last time I checked, engaging in proselytism, (while creepy) is completely legal in India. Which is probably why fundamentalists on the other side like to dub it, 'forced conversion'.

See: John L. Allen Jr.'s All Things Catholic.

Monday, January 14, 2013

But Catholics don't consider Mary to be God!

I had posted this cartoon from on my facebook a/c. And I got the following feedback.

Catholics do not consider Mary or the angels to be God(s). There is only one God.

Anyone who has attended Catholic catechism classes will know that they really only believe in one God. The virgin Mary, mother of God is not a God herself but a saint; a super-saint if you will, accorded a status above all saints. Also Angels, in Catholic theology are not Gods. Nor are the rest of the saints.

So, are atheists like me making fools of themselves by claiming otherwise? Not really. No.

Here is the claim. Catholics do profess to believe in one God. But they do pray to Mary, the archangels, the guardian angels, saints and even dead people whose souls are presumed to be in Heaven (holy souls).

The important distinction is that the Catholics do not worship them as God. They do not consider them to be in the same class as the 'one true God'.

They angels are divine beings with supernatural powers. They often act as messengers of God. They also can at times fight the devil/Satan, sometimes on your behalf.

Then there is Satan or Lucifer and his minions or the fallen angels. These are also divine beings, also with supernatural powers; but evil ones. Catholics pray to the good angels to keep the bad ones away. Children are often taught to invoke their (personal) guardian angel to stand watch while they sleep.

The saints come lower down the hierarchy. But the saints have a hierarchy too. The virgin Mary is the holiest of them all, having been born without the original sin (immaculate conception) and having ascended to heaven (assumption of Mary) with her human body and soul and of course having given birth to the almighty God, Jesus Christ on this earth.

A dead soul does not have to be canonized as a saint to be one. A saint is a saint whether declared as one or not. A declaration just clarifies things for the lay people, so that they know who to focus on in their prayers.

The angels and saints have specializations, I kid you not! St. Anthony of Padua, is the patron of lost things and missing persons. So, if you lose a wallet or if your GPS malfunctions, St. Antony is the one to go to. St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers (he being a carpenter, he would understand the issues), St. Francis of Assisi the patron of ecologists, Francis de Sales the patron of journalists and writers (and bloggers?), St. Michael, the Archangel, the patron of grocers, mariners, paratroopers, police, and sickness and so on. Going to the right saint is like going to a specialist.

Then you have got the rest of the dead souls who are in heaven - the holy souls. They can also intercede on your behalf. You can pray to them and they in turn can pray for you, to the one true God. Hey, influence helps, even in heaven!

And on top of all, there is the one true God. And in Catholic and most (though not all) Christian theologies, the one true God is actually composed of three personalities - the Father, the Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, together forming the holy trinity. They are three, but one. It is quite simple. In case you are confused, let's let the fourth Lateran Council clarify it for you. "It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds".

When I was a practicing Christian, this was one of those fundamental tenets of my faith that never really made sense and was filed away as 'that's how it is'.

[The evolution of the theology behind they holy trinity and who begot who has a colorful history.]

So, in reality, what you have is a hierarchy of divine, supernatural entities. Here is the hierarchy.

Catholics do have a hierarchy of divine beings. And they do pray to all of them. The top three (or one) are designated as Gods. The rest just quack like secondary and tertiary Gods, just not officially termed as such.

The (excessive) veneration of saints was in fact an issue that flared up during the Protestant reformation.

The other aspect of the cartoon is the suggestion to pray for 'the heathens'. Well, Roman Catholicism no longer teaches that the Jews, people of other faiths and non-Catholic Christians will automatically go to Hell and burn for all eternity. But that does not make the centuries of tradition of teaching exactly that, vanish into thin air.

Also, in practice, many or most Catholics do not tune in to the latest from the Holy See. For instance, when I was studying for my holy communion, a nun categorically denied evolution and cited the fact that 'monkeys do not beget humans' as proof. She was completely unaware that Catholic Church at that time considered evolution to be "completely compatible" with its theology. This is far from uncommon.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Catholic Church fights on!

The Catholic church's crackdown on sexual abuse of minors by their priests is going ahead full steam. Or maybe NOT.
Germany's Roman Catholic bishops sacked a criminologist studying sexual abuse of minors by their priests on Wednesday, prompting him to accuse them of trying to censor what was to be a major report on the scandals.
The independent study, examining church files sometimes dating back to 1945, was meant to shed light on undiscovered cases of abuse after about 600 people filed claims against molesting priests in 2010 following a wave of revelations there.
What was the sacked researcher, criminologist Christian Pfeiffer's side of the story?

Pfeiffer told German Radio the bishops wanted to change previously agreed guidelines for the project to include a final veto over publishing its results, which he could not accept.
"Everything was settled reasonably and then suddenly came ... an attempt to turn the whole contract towards censorship and stronger control by the church," said Pfeiffer, head of the Lower Saxony Criminological Research Institute.

 What was the church's problem?
Bishop Stephan Ackermann, spokesman on abuse issues for the German Bishops Conference, said the hierarchy had lost confidence in the researcher, criminologist Christian Pfeiffer, and would look for another specialist to take up the study.
"We regret that this project ... cannot be continued and we will have to find a new partner," Ackermann said in a statement that blamed Pfeiffer's "communications behaviour with church officials" for the breakdown.

The Catholic Church continues the good fight against evil!

Pfeiffer also said he found out after starting his study, which was supposed to study files for nine dioceses since 1945 and 18 dioceses for the period 2000 to 2010, that files on priests convicted of sexual abuse could be destroyed 10 years after the verdict.
He said his team of researchers would continue its work without church support, appealing to victims to report their cases to them so they can produce a report on their experiences.
Here is the full report.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Spot any differences?

Do you see any differences?

Four new archbishops lie prostrate during their ordination by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 6.

The Indian state of Tamil Nadu’s finance minister O Panneerselvam at Chief minister J Jayalalitha's feet.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Pope's 'appearance of special pleading'

Bruce Chilton thinks that the Pope has performed a profound service by writing his book on Jesus' infancy narratives.

Bruce concludes his piece thus:
In urging that template upon his readers' attention, Benedict has performed a profound service for our time, even as he has left to the side historical concerns that cannot escape the curiosity that is native to our epoch. He has met the challenge of interpreting some of the most contentious texts in the New Testament by means of the symbolic reading championed by Irenaeus and Augustine. While those early teachers thought that symbols stood on their own, without the need of history's backing, today any interpretation that avoids asking about actual events can give the appearance of special pleading.
Interpreting the Gospel narratives without historical backing is indeed special pleading. Period.