This book will deal with items of faith central to the Christian tradition. It may therefore be in order to clarify where I stand vis-a-vis this tradition. For most practical purposes, I belong to the Catholic community in my country: schooling, membership of cultural organizations, trade-union etc. I confess (therewith upholding a Christian ritual) that several times, I have voted for the Christian-Democratic Party, a non-confessional party that vaguely adheres to ‘values’ upheld by the Christian tradition.
Moreover, in my youth I was a genuine believer, more than most of my class-mates and my generation as a whole. My father was one of the last polemizing Catholics in Belgium, and a sharp critic of the degenerative secularizing tendencies within the modem Church. I have always respected this wholehearted acceptance of the authentic doctrine and tradition more than the wishy-washy approach currently taken by our bishops and taught in our Theology faculty.
All this may be worth mentioning to clarify that I do not belong to that category of people, fairly widespread in my country, who have a deep-seated hatred against the Catholic Church and traditions, either because they were brought up as militant atheists or because they slammed the church door behind them during adolescence, never to look back again except to pour contempt. There is quite a literature by writers who in adult life continue to react against the frustrations, mostly sexual, which they associate with their years in the Jesuit college. Today, it is no exaggeration to say that the anti-Christian people in countries like mine are more fanatical and intolerant than the dwindling number of churchgoers. My motive in writing this book has nothing to do with that type of anti-Christian reaction.
The point is simply that we, European Christians of many generations, have outgrown Christianity. Most people who left the Church have found that they are not missing anything, and that the beliefs which once provided a framework for interpreting and shaping life, were but a bizarre and unnecessary construction after all. We now know that Jesus was not God’s Only-begotten Son, that he did not save humanity from eternal sin, and that our happiness in this world or the next does not depend on believing these or any other dogmas.
When staying in India, I find it sad and sometimes comical to see how these outdated beliefs are being foisted upon backward sections of the Indian population by fanatical missionaries. In their aggressive campaign to sell their product, the missionaries are helped a lot by sentimental expressions of admiration for Christianity on the part of leading Hindus. Many Hindus project their own religious categories on the few Jesus episodes they have heard, and they base their whole attitude to Christianity on what I know to be a selective, incoherent and unhistorical version of the available information on Jesus’ life and teachings. That is why I have written the present introduction to one of the most revealing lines of proper scientific research into the origins of Christianity, viz. the psychological analysis of Jesus and of several other Biblical characters.
As Jawaharlal Nehru said, we do injustice to the Vedas by treating them as divine revelations rather than as milestones of human understanding. Glad that for once I can agree with Nehru, I affirm that we should take a secular, historicizing look at the factual human basis of religious scriptures. In the case of religions, which describe their own basis as God-given, directly revealed by God’s word, such a secular approach will imply an analysis of the consciousness, which claims to receive direct revelations from God. That is the line of research to which this book offers a brief introduction.
Delhi, 24 January 1993