Appendix 1: Of Pagan Gods and Heresies
Appendix 1: Of Pagan Gods and Heresies
The following article by S.K. Balasubraamaniam which appeared in The Observer of Business and Politics, New Delhi, on 16 April 1994 shows in brief how revealed religions fatten on other faiths which they destroy eventually.
Revealed religions deal with contrary theological beliefs either by expelling them as heresies or assimilating them into their own doctrines.
Revelations, to be valid, have to be original. Otherwise every growing child can claim its new experiences as divinely ordained inspiration. In revealed religions, like Christianity and Islam, there is no scope for dissent as the final word is contained in the revelation itself. But such claims have to be treated as spurious in the absence of originality.
St Paul was a Jew named Saul who changed the ‘S’ in his name to ‘P’ on conversion. He had a greater aversion to Judaism than St Peter, another apostle, who wanted Christianity to develop as a reformation of Judaism. But Paul had greater ambitions and felt that circumcision and the Jewish injunction against pork would be inconvenient to the Romans and abolished both. Thus Christianity became a proselytising religion but in the process it had to absorb Roman paganism, finally emerging as a Roman religion in Hebrew clothing.
Islam faced other difficulties. According to Max Mueller, Mohammed negotiated with the Jews for recognition as one of their prophets. By then the Jews were weary of prophets and, realising the dangerous portents of a new prophet, rejected his claims. Mohammed started a new religion incorporating all the Jewish features including circumcision and the dietary inhibitions. According to the same author, he also developed a summary method of dealing with dissent. Under a hopeless siege by 3,000 Meccan soldiers in Medina, he reached an agreement with them and got them to disarm in good faith. Overnight he changed his mind under ‘divine command’ and ordered the massacre of all the unarmed opponents. Such behaviour by either Bill Clinton or Yitzhak Rabin would be condemend by today’s Muslims as perfidy but became the standard for dealing with heresies in Islam as exemplified by the Iranian fatwa against Rushdie. Given such peremptory and raw treatment, Zorastrianism withered away in Iran though some 3 million ‘pseudo-Zorastrians’ had recently surfaced in Tadjikistan professing interest in reviving their ancestral faith in that Central Asian country.
Islamic variants, like the Ahmedi and Ismaili faiths, considered heretic by the orthodoxy, could sprout and survive only under the tolerant conditions of a predominantly Hindu India.
Christianity, on the other hand, developed schizoid features. The Jewish God, though totally demanding in obedience, was structurally ill-defined. A vague cloud or a moving pillar of fire could be inspiring but could not be a subject for rational debate. The Greek ‘pagans’, like Plato and Aristotle, on the other hand, had developed visions of God(s) and the heavens which were detailed and intellectually stimulating. Christianity eagerly absorbed these concepts and the conflicts, inherent in the amalgamation of the much-derided paganism and the Jewish monotheism, gave rise to the heresies in Christianity which suffered from the typical symptoms of the ‘Mahesh Bhatt syndrome’. Faced with a self- effacing Muslim mother ready to submerge her identity for the sake of her children and husband, and an affectionate Brahmin father who conferred on him all the patronymic benefits, Bhatt lost his sense of identity in a welter of conflicting religious connotations and suffered an all-consuming rage within himself which led to a mental breakdown. Psychiatry and some gurus pulled him out of the morass but still left him cold and unreconciled to the conventions of the family and the society. Likewise, Christianity too became an angry religion and turned to indiscriminate populism. R.K. Narayan portrays the curseladen European missionaries in India with a delightful sense of humour.
Gnosis, the first midway house between the Christian and Pagan religions, was also the first to be rejected as a heresy in later times. It considered Jewish exclusiveness as below the Greek dignity. The sensible world was considered as the creation of a minor Greek deity called Ialdabaoth who was identified as the Jewish Yahweh. The serpent was not wicked in this view for it warned Eve against the deceptions of Yahweh. Jesus was considered a man in whom the Son of God resided temporarily to exorcise Yahweh. When Christianity acquired government patronage in the time of Constantine, it turned against the Gnostic teachings and declared them heretical.
Origen was a neoplatonic philosopher who attempted to systematise and blend the theologies of paganism and Christianity. He believed in the pre-existence of Plato’s souls and considered Christ as human before he became a divine incarnation. Origen also maintained that the pure reasoning of the Greek philosophers could blend easily with Christian dogmas. Though he is accepted as one of the Christian Fathers, his doctrines were vehemently opposed by St Jerome and later denounced as her- esy. Origen also demanded that the new religion should not take part in political governance of any state. This doctrine was re- jected at the time Constantine converted when Christianity got royal support and more importantly, the army’s approval.
Arians considered Jesus, the Son, as a creation of God and hence inferior to the Father. The view accorded well with the opinion that Christian Trinity was an adaptation of the Augustan triumvirate. The concept of differential divinity for the Son and Father was rejected by the council at Nicoea in AD 325. The controversy divided Christianity into three factions: the Byzantian, the Egyptian and the Syrian. During the rule of Emperor Theodosius the Catholic rejection of Arianism finally prevailed but weakened the affiliation of Egypt and Syria which quietly succumbed to Islamic invasion. The internal schism in Christianity was responsible for the Islamic dominance in the region.
During the same period a synagogue was burnt at the alleged instigation of a local Bishop. St Ambrose intervened on behalf of the Bishop with the king and a pattern was set for Christian anti-semitism. The Saint recalled a divine precedent in his favour: “Have you not heard, Oh! Emperor! How, when Julian (the apostate King) commanded that the Temple of Jerusalem should be restored, those who were clearing the rubbish were consumed by fire.” The Saint’s deduction was that the destruction of a synagogue was divinely ordained and hence not punishable by an earthly monarch. No wonder the Portuguese in India and the Spaniards in South America indulged in historical vandalism against the local peoples.
St. Augustine attempted to purge the Greek elements from Christian theology. God was envisioned as a creator of the world out of nothing, according to Christian theology, which was held impossible by the Greeks.
Greek philosophy led to Pantheism which held that every- thing is part of God, a concept to which Christian mystic were greatly attracted. Throughout the Christian era the mystics were always on the verge of heresy essentially because Christianity denied any individual experience outside the scriptural prescriptions.
Pelagius questioned the doctrine of Original Sin and believed in the role of Free Will in moral choice. This heresy was energetically denounced by St Augustine who held that “All who died unbaptised including infants, go to hell.” As we are otherwise totally depraved, we cannot complain.
According to the Saint, “Damnation proves God’s justice; salvation his mercy.” Bertrand Russell comments: “Seeing that these were the preoccupations handed over to the converted barbarians it is no wonder that the succeeding age surpassed all other fully historical periods in cruelty and superstition.”
“The year 1000 may be conveniently taken as marking the end of the lowest depth to which Western Europe sank.” It is sad to note that religious dogma had played a major role in this degradation.