NT: Nature of Religion

I had written at length about my views on religion here.

Last few months I spent studying (superficially) Christianity. Rather than relying on the actual texts I preferred to read commentary on those texts. Based on those texts I referred to online biblical sources. From what I understood from those efforts, I realized that the way Christianity is practiced in Goa, is many times different from what is really expected out of a pious Christian. Whatever may be the reasons.

An interesting letter was published in Navhind Times, the Author was Mr. Bosco Vaz.

JESUS Christ came into this world to do away with false beliefs and paganisms. Even during the time of Moses, Jewish culture was full of paganism and hence the need for God’s Commandments. The Mapusa Church encourages pouring of oil on statues. Can someone explain this with reference to the text on the Bible? I am a Roman Catholic and so have right to know whether we are serving the true God or indulging in several gods.

Another two letters was published subsequently endorsing the view expressed by Mr. Vaz

I FULLY endorse the views expressed by Mr Bosco Vaz in his letter ‘Paganism in the Church’ (NT, April 20). Idolatry and pagan practices, such as the pouring of oil over the statue of Mother Mary have been flourishing in the Catholic Church as well as in the hundreds of Marian shrines in India and abroad.

The Church may not agree with this, but such practices do not find legitimacy in our scriptures and are also explicitly forbidden by God in the Old Testament. This is precisely why several Christian sects are convinced that Mother Mary of the Catholic Church is different from the Mary of the Bible. While there may not be truth in this, such a view assumes greater significance and credibility, particularly during the Milagres Feast celebrated in Mapusa every year, where according to popular legend, Our Lady of Miracles (Milagres Saibinn) is none other than the transformed Mirabai, one of the seven sisters worshipped by both Hindus and Catholics alike.

I was expecting that someone especially a non-Christian would get surprised as this and will reply. That was my theory and one Mrs. Angle proved it also. She wrote:

THIS is in reference to the letters written by Mr A F Nazareth and Mr Sebastian D’Souza on ‘Pagan practices in the Church’ (NT, April 21). The zatra of Goddess Lairai and the Milagres Feast of Mapusa fall on the same day–as both are supposed to be sisters.

Both communities exchange oil, flowers and other gifts on this day. What a fine example of communal harmony. In these troubled times this is something to be welcomed and celebrated. But Mr Nazareth’s letter implies that all other religions other than Christianity are pagan religions and as far as Mr D’Sousa’s letter goes, he makes us believe that his God has human like qualities like jealousy, when God is supposed to be above all this.

If one would recall the speeches given by our secular leaders they are precisely saying what this lady is trying to say. The only difference is that the leaders make it sound so obvious. The reality however is explained in the previous three letters, what Mrs. Angle is saying is her ignorance and wishful thinking. A careful thought would reveal how dangerous this ignorance can be for her and others who live in that ignorance.

I was waiting only have a final say summarizing what all 4 letters tried to show and contrast them against the reality that is often portrayed by our leaders and media. In doing so I had to be careful that Navhind Times will publish it as well.

MS Aruna Pai Angle’s views (NT, April 23) resonate with mine. All monotheist religions decry poly-atheism, paganism and animism. Since these religions (monotheist) are dogmatic rather than evolutionary, followers tread in the path laid down by its founder.In that sense a christian must give up the paganism practices if he or she wants to profess himself/herself as Christian. As Ms Angle points out; any common thread that exists due to strong traditions and influence of ancestral beliefs helps build communal harmony. However this is only a politically convenient argument, because in practice monotheist religions try their best to break this common thread.That is the command they have got from their God or Prophet and it’s their sacred duty to fulfill it. In Christian theology God has made man in his own image and hence God is indeed like a man. Also, God himself proclaims that he is a jealous God (Exodus 20:4-5).

In contrast to well-organised religions, native religions and belief systems which come under the broader term of Hinduism are hardly dogmatic. Traditions and beliefs in such religions are subject to evolution and change. They give full freedom to their worshipers to chose their path of worship.Vedic and Upanishadic writings indicate how thee systems evolved from rituals to symbolism and from symbolism to contemplations. Conflicts are short-lived and society adjusts itself to the changes very soon. A century back, eating meat was a blasphemy for Brahmins; today most can’t live without it. Alcohol consumption has become a norm under the pretext of social pressure.On the contrary, Islam’s stand on pork and alcohol remains the same. The Church’s stand on abortions and homosexuality is fixed.

Fault lines of communal disharmony often lie in one group’s insistence to force their wishes on others. This can be within a community itself. The Semitic religions were born from the same source but they varied very much in their core ideology and continue to fight within themselves. On the contrary a structureless religion like Hinduism continues to sustain itself despite the radically different schools of thought that continue to exist within it.

It will be very interesting to see how different religions continue to address the issues of faith over the next few decades. I feel they will undergo changes to the extent that they will not be identifiable with their current form.

The italic text is the one which was present originally in my mail but the editor probably removed it from going to print.

Readers are expected to draw their own conclusions. I will be very happy to host any discussion here, including a theological one.

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