Onesimus: From Slavery to Sonship

July 22, 2014

Onesimus was a slave (Philemon 16), owned by Philemon. Though his master was a Christian and hosted a house-church in Colosse (Philemon 2; Col 4.9, 17), Onesimus was still a heathen (Philemon 10).

Why Onesimus had left Philemon is not stated. We need not infer from Philemon 18 and 19 that Onesimus had stolen money from his master. He was not a runaway slave in the traditional sense of being a fugitive or deserter. What we can say is that some serious domestic grievance destroyed the relationship between Onesimus and his master Philemon. Having known his civil rights, Onesimus went to Rome believing that Paul could mediate between him and his master.

Under certain conditions of the Roman law governing slavery, it was possible for a slave to seek out an intercessor or an advocate to mediate a grievance with the master. Often a close friend of the master was chosen by the slave for this purpose. Since he was asking for mediation or intercession, he was not considered fugitive or runaway slave. His intention was to return to the master’s house and to continue to serve his master in changed conditions. Exactly what the misdeed of Onesimus is not clear, but it did some damage (Philemon 18-19), so that he needed a mediator.

Interestingly enough, the pagan slave Onesimus went to the Christian apostle Paul, who was imprisoned, for help against his Christian master. Onesimus would have known Paul from the contacts that Philemon had with the apostle. While he was with Paul Onesimus became a believer in Jesus Christ (Philemon 10). Paul, then, wrote this “letter of intercession or mediation” trusting that Philemon would forgive the “wrong” and cancel any debt (Philemon 18, 19), and to accept him again with love. Paul stressed his appeal by pointing out that he was instrumental in the conversion of Onesimus into a Christian while he was with him (something that the master could not do). Onesimus, therefore, deserved to be welcomed as a “beloved brother” in the Philemon’s house-church, leaving no more room for anger (Philemon 10, 16, 17).

We see how conversion to the Christian faith broke down all social, racial and economic barriers. A new relationship and partnership has been formed in this situation where master, slave and apostle (i.e. Philemon, Onesimus and Paul) are all part of one family in Christ (Philemon 16). In Galatians 3.28 Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The existing social difference between slave and master no longer had relevance in the Christian community (I Cor 12.13), where all should treat one another as equally worthy and with love. Existing worldly social differences should not be used to the disadvantage of the lower classes. In the church “free” and “slave” were no longer relevant social terms. All those who believed in Jesus Christ are the children of God (Gal. 4.4-7).

As a Christian, Onesimus was now “useful” for Paul and his master (Philemon 11). In his letter, Paul asked Philemon to send Onesimus back so that Onesimus could “serve” the apostle (Philemon 12-14). This “service” probably refers to being a co-worker with Paul in the gospel work for a time in place of Philemon himself (Philemon 13). Lending a representative by a church to serve another in mission (Philemon 14) is known elsewhere (2 Cor 8.23; Phil 2.25-30; I Cor 16:17; Col 1.7). Through these workers, the churches shared actively in Paul’s mission work. Since Philemon represented a house-church, he could lend Onesimus as a representative of his church to participate in Paul’s mission work. Other mission helpers were already present with Paul when Paul wrote his letter to Philemon and even sent their greetings (Philemon 24). From Colossians 4.9, it can be concluded that Philemon indeed released Onesimus for temporary service to Paul’s mission.

Interestingly enough, Onesimus means “profitable” or “useful”. The one, who was “useless” to his master when he was a pagan (Philemon 11), became “useful” after his conversion.

Andrew, the Apostle of Jesus Christ

July 10, 2014

Our knowledge of Andrew from the Bible is limited, as his name occurs only 12 times in the New Testament. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, his name is mentioned mostly in the list of apostles (Mt. 10.2; Mk. 3.18; Lk. 6.14). Only on three occasions he is mentioned outside of the list of the apostles (Mk. 1.16; 1.29, 13.3). Although Andrew was one of the Apostles, Acts of the Apostles mentions him only once, i.e. in the list of apostles (Acts 1.13).

Only in the Gospel of John, Andrew becomes more than a name (i.e. a name mentioned in the list of apostles). In this Gospel we gain a clearer picture of his character and activity (Jn. 1.35-44; 6.8-9; 12.20-22).

1. Basic Details of Andrew

Andrew was the son of John, brother of Simon Peter, a native of Bethsaida in Galilee and a fisherman by trade. Although Andrew was a native of Bethsaida, he later moved to Capernaum (Mk. 1.16, 17).

Andrew, whose name means “manly” or “courageous”, was the first disciple of Jesus Christ. Before he became a disciple of Jesus Christ, he was a follower of John, the Baptist.

2. Character of Andrew

Though he is not as much visible as his brother Peter does, his life teaches us several important lessons.

a. Andrew – A Man of Humility

Andrew is described in the New Testament primarily as the brother of Peter, although he was the one who brought Peter to Jesus Christ. He was scarcely more than a name, almost completely overshadowed by his brother. Even though Andrew was the first disciple of Jesus, he was not a member of the inner circle of Jesus. Peter, James and John became the members of that intimate group and were with Jesus on special occasions such as the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Mk. 5.37) and Jesus’ transfiguration (Mk. 9.2).

Thus, Andrew never reached a place of “prominence”. But he never craved for a place of honour. Also he did not show envy of those who played the lead role. Andrew was more concerned with serving than building his reputation. His attitude was opposite to that of James and John, who asked Jesus for places of honour (Mk. 10.35-40). Humble Andrew was content with his role and labored quietly and with deep commitment to serve God.

b. Andrew – An Honest Seeker

Andrew and another disciple heard John, the Baptist, say about Jesus, “Look, here is the Lamb of God” (Jn. 1.35-36). Regardless of the fact that John did not speak to them directly, regardless of the fact that John did not volunteer to introduce them to Jesus, they acted upon what they heard.

Seeing them following him, Jesus said, “What are you looking for?” Notice, Jesus did not say, “Whom are you looking for?” but “What are you looking for?” This is a question to search their hearts for the motive behind their quest.

As the popularity of Jesus grew, the multitude sought him for healing (Mt. 4.23-25), and for loaves and fishes. They would make him a king so that their food problem might be permanently solved (Jn. 6.15).

It is not often that people give themselves up to honest, penetrating examination of their own motives and desires in following Jesus. What are we looking for, anyway?

Andrew and the other disciple responded to Jesus’ searching question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (Jn. 1.38). This query expresses their desire to know Jesus. Honouring their desire, Jesus invited them at once, “Come and see” (Jn. 1.39).

So much awaits the one who seeks Jesus with a genuine desire to know him: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11.28); “Come” “Let everyone who is thirsty come” (Rev. 22.17).

The meeting of Andrew and the other disciple brings sharply before us the fact that there is no substitute for a personal experience of Jesus. The testimony of John, the Baptist, was helpful to these seekers, but they could not rest in that. They must see Jesus for themselves.

It is so today. One is not saved by another’s faith, nor nurtured by another’s spiritual experience. A pastor, Sunday School teacher, parent or friend may perform the valuable service of testifying about Jesus Christ. But one must come to Jesus for herself/himself to be saved and to enter upon a life of fellowship with Jesus.

c. Andrew – A Man of Strong Convictions

When Andrew found that Jesus was the Messiah, he looked for his brother Peter, shared his conviction about Jesus and brought him to Jesus. His strong conviction enabled him to encourage Peter to become a disciple of Jesus, the Messiah. His faith and joy beckoned him to tell somebody about what he discovered.

Good news is hard to keep. This is as it should be. Information that benefits one will help others as well. This is true of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Andrew became a witness, going to work at once in the task of spreading the good tidings.

d. Andrew – A Man of Positive Outlook (Jn. 6.1-14)

Jesus’ feeding the five thousand illustrates Andrew as a man with a positive outlook. Jesus was concerned about the condition of the crowd that had been listening to him teach for a long time. Hungry and tired, they needed food to eat. So Jesus turned to Philip and asked him where they could buy food.

Didn’t Jesus know how much it costs and that he didn’t have money to buy? Yes, he knew that he could not afford to buy food for this crowd. If so, why did he ask Philip “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (Jn. 6.5). The Bible says that Jesus asked this probing question in order to test Philip’s faith in him. Philip immediately calculated how much money was needed and told Jesus that it would cost 200 denarii (one denarus was a day’s wage of a laborer).

Calculating how much money was needed is not wrong. Jesus himself encouraged to count the cost in the context of discipleship (Lk. 14.28-32). What Jesus tested Philip was NOT whether his disciple would calculate the cost, but whether his disciple would look to him for solution after calculating the cost. Philip’s answer seemed to suggest that his eyes were on the enormity of the problem than on his master who had the ability to solve the problem. In a way, he was telling Jesus how much bread they didn’t have, how impossible the task was. It seemed overwhelming and impossible. It was all that Philip focused on.

Then Andrew walked up. He had been quietly working on the problem himself. But all he had been able to find was a boy carrying his food – five barley loaves and two fish. Mind you, barley loaves was the food of the poor in those days. Andrew presented his “solution” to his master, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (Jn. 6.9). Though Andrew knew what he found was inadequate, yet he informed Jesus what was available.

While Philip looked at the issue from a negative perspective, here was Andrew trying to look for a positive solution. Philip looked at the enormity of the problem that made him inadequate, weak and inactive, while Andrew looked at the enormity of the problem as well as his master, and brought to Jesus the little he found. Jesus turned this little into much and fed the hungry.

The human spirit is so prone to negativism, the focus on what we can’t do and what we don’t have…. When we become so tied up in focusing on what we don’t have, we lose choice opportunities to let God use what we do have!

There is a rich lesson for us to learn here.

i. We should look not only at the problem/issue but also at our God.
ii. We should not focus on what we don’t have. Instead, we should focus on what we have, no matter how small or little it is, submit it to God and let him use it for his good purpose.

e. Andrew – A Man of Global Outlook (Jn. 12.20-22)

Andrew showed a global outlook, by ushering the Greeks (foreigners) to meet Jesus. It would have been easy to completely dismiss the Greeks and their request, as there was racial and religious prejudice. But Andrew was not that kind of a person. He believed that everyone had access to Jesus, and no one could ever be a nuisance to Jesus, if that person was seeking the truth. Through his initial experience, he knew how important it was for people to come to Jesus in order to know him!

3. Andrew’s Death

Andrew’s death is not recorded in the Bible. But church tradition says that Andrew was crucified on an “X” shaped cross. He seemed to have requested those who crucified him that he not be crucified in the normal position, feeling unworthy to die as his Lord Jesus. So his cross was turned on its side to form an “X”.

A Religion of Inclusion and Service

July 1, 2014

The perceived importance of the story of Jesus’ act in the temple is evident as it appears in all the four Gospels (Mt. 21.12-17; Mk. 11.15-18; Lk. 19.45-48; Jn. 2.13-22). Mark’s version is the longest among the four. Only Mark makes clear that God’s house shall be called a house of prayer for “all the nations” (Mk. 11.17). The episode in Mark 11.15-18 is generally called “Jesus cleansing the temple”. However, this description of Jesus’ act in the temple is too weak an appraisal. Jesus’ act is symbolic of a more serious pronouncement. Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ action in the temple reinforces the purpose of a larger narrative that the time of fulfilment has come and God’s kingdom has dawned. The final public act of Jesus in the temple forms the climax of the conflict between Jesus, messenger of the kingdom of God, and the guardians of the self-serving Jewish religion.

A. Jesus’ Act in the Temple

After entering Jerusalem, Jesus proceeds to the temple (Mk. 11.11). The critical nature of his visit is clarified by the events of the following day (Mk. 11.12-14). The fig tree episode throws light on Jesus’ act in the temple.

The fig tree event sandwiches Jesus’ temple act (Mk. 11.12-14; 11.15-17; 11.20-26). This event interprets Jesus’ action in the temple. However, there are hardly any references to the temple described metaphorically as a tree, leave alone fig tree. If the fig tree in Mk 11.12-14 is used symbolically for the temple in Mk 11.15-17, the most likely metaphorical use would be as a reference to the Jerusalem temple-related religion not belonging to “the time” (the Greek phrase ho kairos is translated as “the season” in NRSV).      

On the following morning on his way to the temple along with his disciples, Jesus sees “a fig tree in leaf”. He approaches it in order to pluck its fruit and satisfy his hunger. But he finds no figs. The writer points out that it is not ho kairos, which is translated as “the season” (Mk. 11.13). If this is the intended meaning of the writer of Mark’s gospel, then Jesus’ expectation of fruit at this period is unreasonable. Moreover, Jesus cursing it for not producing fruit out of season is outrageous. The other important thing is, Jesus, who lived in Palestine all his life, must have been aware of the fact that it is not the season for the fig tree to produce fruit. Considering these things, one needs to know the writer’s intended meaning of ho kairos (“the time”).  

Mark uses the Greek phrase ho kairos in 1.15, 11.13 and 13.33 (and tō kairō in 10.30 and 12.2). In 1.15 and 13.33 ho kairos refers to the eschatological age (i.e. the “end time” that has come on to this earth with the coming of Jesus Christ). This implies that ho kairos in Mark 11.13 also refers to the eschatological age. Therefore, the cursing of the fig tree demonstrates that the leafy fig tree symbolizing the temple cult does not belong to the eschatological age.

The temple-related religion gives an illusion that it has “fruits”, whereas in reality it is barren. Here “fruits” refer to “serving the needs of people”. The guardians of the temple-related religion, by promoting this delusion, have benefited not only through the business that is taking place at the temple, but also in maintaining their power and authority over people. Jesus is exposing this delusion through the acted parable of “cursing” of the fig tree and by bringing to a halt the business associated to the temple cult.

The purchase of sacrificial animals and change of currency are necessary for the operation of the temple cult. The tables of the money-changers are needed for buying and selling of the sacrificial animals at the site and to exchange Roman coinage with its idolatrous images and inscriptions into an acceptable coinage, probably Tyrian coinage, which would be used for buying sacrificial animals and paying temple tax. Jesus has chased away the buyers and sellers of the sacrificial animals and birds needed for sacrifice, and overturned the tables of the money changers. Jesus overturning the tables of merchants is often understood as Jesus’ desire to rid the temple of dishonest merchants, who are involved in unfair business practices. But the Gospel says nothing about this. Jesus’ radical action is directed at the abolition of the temple cult. As Herman Waetjen says, “This is not an act of reformation intended to eliminate business activities from the observance of the cult or to separate trade and commerce from the worship of God. Jesus is not “cleansing the temple”.” Jesus is rejecting the temple cult: “He would not allow anyone to carry a vessel through the temple” (Mk. 11.16). He is, in effect, stopping the operation required for the functioning of the sacrificial system.

The immediate context of Jesus’ temple act, and the wider context of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God and his conflict with the guardians of the temple-related religion give an eschatological framework. Jesus’ radical act signifies that the temple cult does not belong to the eschatological age. His condemnation on the temple cult is based on the scriptures: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mk. 11.17). This quote is taken from Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7. Isa. 56 envisions a time of full inclusion of the excluded groups of people, and so an inclusive community. Eunuchs and Gentiles, who were excluded from “the assembly of the Lord”, are welcomed (cf. Deut. 23.1-4). God’s house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations. Only Mark has included that God’s house shall be called a house of prayer for “all the nations” (Mk. 11.17). Further, Isa. 56.11 complains about the greed of the leaders of Israel: “The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough. The shepherds also have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, to their own gain, one and all.” The term “gain” clearly implies that their profit has been unjustly and violently acquired. This is one point of contact with Jeremiah 7. Although “den of robbers” in Mk. 11.17 seems to suggest that the problem is dishonesty of the merchants, the citation from Jeremiah 7 refers to sins including stealing, murder, committing adultery and swearing falsely. These sins refer to the sin of greed. The people of Judah were involved in acting unjustly with one another, oppressing the alien, the orphan and the widow (Jer. 7.5-6). It is such behaviour that made the temple “a den of robbers”. Jeremiah goes on to say that the people “then come and stand before me (God) in this house, which is called by m y name, and say “we are safe” – only to go on doing all these abominations” (Jer. 7. 9-10). The prophet declares God’s judgment on “this house, which is called by my name.” Jeremiah cites the destruction of the Shiloh temple as precedence for the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

Therefore, Jesus’ temple act signifies his condemnation on the temple cult (cf. Mk. 15.1-2). At Jesus’ trial one of the charges brought against him is that he has said that he would destroy the temple (Mk. 14.58). The same charge is repeated by the mockers when Jesus is crucified (Mk. 15.29-30). However, the destruction of the Jerusalem temple that Jesus pronounced is not through violent means. This is found in Jesus’ answer to Peter’s astonishment at the sight of withered fig tree: “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you” (Mk. 11.22-23). The destruction of the self-serving religion happens through the presence of the community of faith. 

B. The Subversive Community of Faith and Forgiveness, and Service

Faith and Forgiveness

The subversive nature of the community of the kingdom of God is evident in Jesus’ answer to Peter (Mk. 11.22-24). To Peter’s exclamation: “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered,” Jesus answered: “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.” (Mk. 11.21-23). The witnessing of the withered fig tree immediately follows Jesus’ temple act. “Mountain” in Jesus’ answer refers to the Mt. Zion on which the temple stands. The faith community effects the demise of the self-serving and self-promoting temple cult, because it exposes the duplicity of the Jewish temple-related religion.

The motif of “faith” is emphasized in Mark. The role of faith in healing is repeatedly mentioned (Mk. 2.5, 5.34, 36, 6.6, 10.52). Although the object of faith is not specified in these passages, presumably Mark is referring to God’s kingdom power that is active in and through Jesus Christ. The relation of faith to the dawning of the kingdom of God is evident in Jesus’ proclamation of the good news of God (Mk. 1.14-15).

The faith community is also a forgiving community. Forgiveness removes the barriers among people, which in turn engenders an inclusive community: “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mk. 11.25). The means of divine forgiveness is not temple and its sacrificial system, but offering forgiveness.

Since faith in God’s kingdom is possible to anyone in any place, and the disciples’ forgiveness of anything they have against anyone generates an inclusive community open to reconciliation and peaceful relations with all other people, the kingdom community of faith and forgiveness becomes God’s house of prayer “for all the nations” (cf. Mk. 11.17). The inadequacy of the temple cult to promote God’s will is expressed by the scribe’s confession that the two-fold commandment of love (loving God and loving one’s neighbour) is “much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk. 12.32-33). Only in Mark does the scribe declare that the commandment of love for God and neighbour “is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (cf. Mt. 22.34-40; Lk. 10.25-28). By subverting the temple’s entire sacrificial worship, designated by a generalizing reference to “all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”, through the two-fold commandment of love, the scribe has in effect called into question the worth and adequacy of the temple cult. The love for God and one’s neighbour surpasses the greed perpetuated by the temple-related religion. Seeing that the scribe responded “with understanding”, Jesus confirms the surpassing value of love for God and one’s neighbour by pronouncing that he is “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk. 12.34).

Greatness as Service

The community of the kingdom of God is characterized by not only faith and forgiveness, but also service. The primacy of service is emphasized in Mk. 9.33-37 and 10.42-45. The disciples’ discussion on greatness provides an occasion for Jesus to teach about true greatness in terms of service: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk. 9.35). Such service should be rendered to those marginalized in the society such as children (Mk. 9.36-37) and “little ones” (Mk. 9.42). In response to the request of James and John for places of honour in the kingdom of God, Jesus instructs:

You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers, lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mk. 10.42-45).

The disciples know how rulers use their power and authority to dominate and make people serve their greed. Their knowledge of the way power and authority operate in society is used by Jesus to teach them the alternate way that power and authority should be used by the community of the kingdom of God. He clearly stresses that the behaviour of rulers is the model that should be avoided by his disciples. The way the rulers rule and the great men exercise their authority and power is unacceptable in the community of the kingdom of God. Self-seeking, self-promotion, and abuse of power and authority for self-interests are improper in the community of the kingdom of God. “Greatness” and “being first” involve inversion of familiar models.

In contrast to the familiar models of greatness in the society, Jesus becomes the model of greatness to his disciples. Greatness is redefined in the kingdom of God. Jesus teaches greatness as service. The word “great” in Mk. 10.43 echoes the word “great ones” in Mk. 10.42, and the word “slave” in Mk. 10.44 the word “lord over” in Mk. 10.42. The intention of this is to emphasize the contrast between the way power and authority are understood in the community of the kingdom of God and in the society. Mk. 10.43-44 reinforces the idea of service presented in Mk. 9.35. Jesus commands those who want to be great among his disciples to be servants and those who want to become first to be slaves of all. His teaching on service grows out of the commandment to love one’s neighbour.

The disciples of Jesus are freed from the enslavement to the self-serving religion. “Ransom” effects deliverance from enslavement to this religion: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10.45).  The term “ransom” refers to slave market, where a slave is redeemed from slavery by paying a ransom price. In Mk. 10.45 “ransom” does not refer to Jesus’ death ransoming many from their sins. Here “ransom” is presented as a parallel to “came not to be served but to serve”, and in contrast to “tyranny” and “lording over”. The ransoming for “the many” is from the system or social order of “tyranny” and “lording over” into a system of service. Jesus gave his life as a “ransom” to liberate “the many” from the system of enslavement to power and authority (“tyranny” and “lording over”) into the system of serving others, especially the poor and the marginalized. Freedom from the system of enslavement to power and authority is expressed by being a “servant” or “slave”.

Service to others, particularly the marginalized, is central to the ministry of Jesus Christ and so to his disciples, even if such service attracts opposition from “tyrants” and “lords”. The service of Jesus expressed in terms of “giving his life a ransom” is the cause for the service of disciples (notice “for” at the beginning of Mk. 10.45). Those who are redeemed from the system of “tyranny” and “lording over” others into the system of service are called to follow Jesus in serving others, especially the poor and the marginalized. Such service to the powerless and marginalized challenges the powerful. The disciples of Jesus engage in subversive practice of power in contrast to “lords” and “tyrants” who are enslaved to power and authority. With their freedom from the system of enslavement to power and authority, they become willing servants or slaves of others. Thus, the community of the kingdom of God is a subversive community to the structures of power and authority of this world.

Samuel – The Leader

June 30, 2014

The character of Samuel may be studied from different angles. But today we study his character from leadership point of view.

God had called Samuel to be the leader of Israel as a result of the crisis in Israel.

  1. The Crisis in Israel
  1. The crisis in Israel was created by the corruption and immorality of priesthood.

In those days Eli was priest in the temple of the Lord at Shiloh (I Sam. 1.9). God had elected Eli’s family to be priests (I Sam. 2.27-29). Eli was also a judge over Israel (I Sam. 4.18). That means, in those days Israel was under the leadership of a family of priests.

Though Eli was righteous, his two sons Hophni and Phinehas, who were also priests at Shiloh, were extremely corrupt and immoral. On the outside they did their priestly duties, offering sacrifices in the temple, but inside they lived corrupt lives and carried out their system of filth and corruption behind the closed doors.

Eli’s sons treated with contempt the offerings of Yahweh (I Sam. 2.17). Not surprisingly, they performed their duties as priests in an improper fashion (I Sam. 2.12-17). They also slept with women serving at the entrance of the tent of meeting (I Sam. 2.22). This meant that the leadership in Israel had become corrupted.

Though Eli rebuked his sons, he could not control them (I Sam. 2.22-25). He was held accountable for all the improper behavior of his sons (I Sam. 2.29). Therefore, Eli was guilty of what his sons were doing and no amount of proper priestly functions on his part could make up for their evil actions. As a consequence, Eli and his family came under God’s condemnation, and the lineage of priesthood would end with Eli and his sons (I Sam. 2.30, 36). The promise of I Sam 2.35 is designed to address this problem.

What lessons can be learned from the fate of Eli’s sons:

-          Being a good and righteous leader does not mean that his/her children will also be righteous.

-          Positions of power can be easily abused;

-          Yahweh may reject anyone already holding an important position, if the conduct of that person is flawed.

-          Divine promises of succession may be broken by Yahweh due to immorality and corruption of leadership (I Sam. 2.30, 35-36). 

  1. Need of God’s word

I Sam 3.1: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days, visions were not widespread.”

During this time Israel was suffering from the absence of Yahweh’s word.

Into this situation Samuel was born in order to solve the crisis.

  1. Family into which Samuel was born

Elkanah, Father: Elkanah loved his wife Hannah “though the Lord had closed her womb” (I Sam. 1. 6). In that culture a woman, who was barren, was looked down. Such women did not have respect both in their families and society. But Elkanah loved her, although she was barren. For him the “baggage” she carried was immaterial. He loved her as she was.

Elkanah was also an understanding person (1.8). He was there whenever she was down. He consoled her and comforted her whenever she was sad.

Hannah, Mother: She had deep faith in God. Notice what she did before God: she wept bitterly and confessed that she was in distress (1.11); she “poured out her soul before the Lord” (1.15); she spoke out her “great anxiety and vexation” (1.16). That means, she was honest before God. She just poured out before God what she had on her mind and heart. Expression of our feelings, emotions, doubts, questions and hurts before God and a trusted person is not unspiritual.

  1. Transition of Leadership from Eli and His Family to Samuel and His Family

The transition of leadership from Eli and his family to Samuel and his family (1 Sam. 3, 8.1-3]) is highlighted because the transition is not simply from one man or family to another, but from one kind of leadership, namely priestly, to another kind, namely prophetic.

Initially Samuel was apparently being trained as an apprentice under Eli. Samuel ministered as Eli’s assistant (2.11, 18; 3.1), wore an ephod (2.18), offered sacrifices (even after being established as a prophet; cf. 7.9-10), built an altar (7.17), and later was expected to carry out routine priestly functions (16.2-5).But at the same time that Samuel was being groomed as a priestly aide, there are indications that he was destined to be primarily a prophet. His priestly duties were subordinated to his position as prophet.

Israel’s new prophet functioned as its new leader. As Eli the priest had, so Samuel the prophet also “judged” Israel (1 Sam. 7.15). Thus, Samuel was a priest, prophet and judge.

God began to speak again to his people through Samuel. Israel, which at this time had been suffering from the absence of Yahweh’s word and vision, as a result of the call and the prophetic activity of Samuel once more came to hear the divine word. People acknowledged that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet (I Sam. 3.19-24).

Thus, through Samuel the crisis of corrupt leadership and the rarity of God’s word had been solved.

Samuel is recognized as the last judge of Israel, prior to the establishment of kings. He was also God’s appointed kingmaker. His anointing of Saul and David would have given legitimacy to these kings in the eyes of the people and showed that it was God’s doing.

  1. Strengths of Samuel
  1. Obedient to God

Samuel obeyed God’s call to the ministry of priest, prophet and judge. He faithfully carried out the tasks God gave him by speaking the truth to the people, even when it hurt and even when it might be considered dangerous (like when he told Eli what would happen to his sons; and when he rebuked King Saul for disobeying God). He didn’t sugarcoat things (1 Samuel 3:18, 13:12-14; 15:10-31).

What lesson can we learn from Samuel in this? This kind of truth-speaker seems more and more rare these days. See 2 Timothy 4:3, Matthew 4:4, Acts 20:27. The world wants people to tickle their ears and normally they get just that. A lot of these mega churches get to be mega churches because their pastors say only what people want to hear. They don’t rebuke, or warn, or truly exhort to righteous conduct. Why? It makes them uncomfortable and it makes the audience uncomfortable. They wouldn’t be as popular if they spoke the hard truth. We should follow Samuel’s example to share the gospel and teach the word of God truthfully without sugarcoating it and without regard to how we will be perceived or how our audience will react. 

  1. Obedient to Eli (I Sam. 3.1-9)

Even in the middle of the night, Samuel got up and went to Eli three times immediately when he thought he called. He then followed Eli’s instructions when God called him again. Finally he obeyed Eli by telling him the contents of what God had spoken to him, even though Eli could have reacted angrily to Samuel.

See Matthew 7:21-23.

  1. Samuel Continually exhorted Israel to follow the Lord (I Sam. 7:3-12:14-16/12:20-25).

When he reached the distinction of being a prophet, we read that he traveled among his people to teach and promulgate the word of God with religious fervor (I Sam. 7:16). We read of Samuel’s reaction when the Philistines threatened the people of Israel (Ch. 7). Verses 8 and 9 describe the prayer and sacrifices which he initiated to promote successfully the defense of his people. He used prayer and sacrifices to increase his countrymen’s confidence in God.

  1. Weaknesses of Samuel
  1. Samuel seemed to have taken it personally when the people of Israel wanted a king (1 Samuel 8:1-9). It is difficult to reconcile Samuel’s feelings concerning the crowning of a king and the laws of monarchy as set down in Deuteronomy (Dt. 17.14-20). The Law of Moses permits Israel to appoint a king. The only precondition is that the king should be a member of their community. Of course, the Law also specifies how a king should be (Dt. 17.16-20).

The reason for the people of Israel to ask for a king was that Samuel’s sons were corrupt. Eli’s sons corrupted the office of priest, whereas Samuel’s sons corrupted the office of judge. Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah “were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribe and perverted justice” (I Sam. 8.2-3).

Samuel’s reaction to their request for a king was displeasure (I Sam. 8.6). The people were simply asking for something written in the Torah. Then why should Samuel be displeased with their request? The reason is: they asked him, “Give us a king to JUDGE (or govern) us” (I Sam. 8.6). As we know Samuel was not only a priest and prophet, but also a judge. When people asked for a judge, that means they were rejecting Samuel and his sons as judges! That means, the people were rejecting their leadership! This displeased Samuel. This displeasure and anger remained in Samuel and he kept bringing it before the people again and again by saying that they did wrong by asking for a king (I Sam. 8.18-19; 10:17-19; 12.1-12; 12.17).

I want to state that this is a perfectly understandable human quality, and I believe that the Bible wants to emphasize this point. Even though Samuel was likened to Moses in many ways (Ps. 99.6; Jer. 15.1), we should not forget that he was human and simply could not tolerate the request to have another ruler or “judge” in his place. Therefore we have this entire story, up to the point where he tried to convince the people that they were mistaken in asking for a king, irrespective of what is written in Deuteronomy.

Samuel was deeply offended by the nation’s request and just could not get over it. But we never see in the Bible that Samuel ever acknowledged the sins of his sons and corrected them. He was only offended by the people’s request for a king, but never focused on the reason for their request (i.e. the corruption of his sons), nor offended by the evil conduct of his sons.

  1. Samuel looked at the outside of man, instead of the heart (I Sam.16:6). Again, this is a very natural thing, but Samuel should have known better. He was a prophet for decades. He knew how God worked.

Remember that God’s will is not based on a person’s external appearance or a “baggage” such as academic qualification, social status, economic status, family background, physical appearance etc. God looks at the heart.

Just think what we focus on at the time of choosing a life-partner. We set criteria according to OUR WILL and DESIRES to choose a partner, and then present it as God’s will.    

  1. Samuel failed to raise his children in God’s ways (I Sam. 8:1-5). He did not learn from Eli. Instead he made the same mistake that Eli did.

It’s true that parents can not control 100% how their children turn out to be. But there is a strong correlation. Perhaps Samuel was too busy doing ministry, so he did not have enough time for his family. It is also true with majority of those doing ministry (particularly leaders) that they tend to correct others easily, but not their own children.

Children don’t automatically follow in the footsteps of their parents. We see the same story occur again and again in the Bible where the father or one generation follows God and his/their children don’t. Examples: David, the time of Joshua, many kings of Judah in the Old Testament. You cannot neglect your family to make money or even because you are a busy pastor. Godly men and women should recognise that their families are one major part of their ministry. They represent the best chance to raise up disciples and make a difference in the world for Christ. 

Greed: The All-Consuming Epidemic

June 30, 2014

Changes are happening in India at a rapid pace. One of the changes is mushrooming of shopping malls and the crowds at the malls, particularly in urban India. The myth of American dream, characterised by high consumption, compulsive acquisition and instantaneous gratification, has a strong influence on urban Indians. The deceptive notion that happiness lies in the possession of things is uncritically embraced. I am not suggesting you to stop buying. But to buy carefully and consciously with full attention to the real benefits and costs of your purchases, remembering, always, that the best things in life are not things.

One thing most apparent is that in spite of possessing the things most desired, happiness and contentment still elude those infected with “affluenza”. “Affluenza”, according to John De Graff, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor, is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” This metaphor of a disease is an apt characterization of a malignant condition that is eating into the entrails of urban India. People want to buy more and more things. This can cause stress. Stress can come from plain greed masquerading as the “noble” desire for a higher standard of living. In order to maintain higher standard of living, one has to work more time. So one is overworked and pressed for time. It is said, American couples have only 12 minutes a day (at an average) to converse with each other.

People have less time because they work more. They work more because they want more to maintain a higher standard of living. That means, as a society we are choosing money over time.

What are the consequences of this choice?

  1. We have new form of “homelessness”. We have people living under the same roof, but hardly have time to connect with one another. Someone wrote a book with a title “Is there a home in this house?”
  2. The most corrosive impact of consumerism is on human relationships. Consumerism thrives by promoting use-and-throw culture. Attitudes formed towards things (use-and-throw) eventually get transferred to people. As things are discarded after use, people are also thrown out once they lose the capacity to participate in the cycle of consumption. Because in consumeristic culture human beings in themselves do not possess value. Their value is directly proportional to their capacity to buy things. Here the irony is, living beings find their value and worth, and identity in non-living things.   

The consumeristic culture, as a result, has promoted greed and hoarding – accumulation of wealth and material things. Mother Teresa said: “Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing.”

In India it is evident that, although since 1990s there has been a period of sustained economic growth as the country moved towards a more market-oriented economy, the economic growth did not benefit all Indians equally. The benefits of globalization have created two Indias: India shining and India suffering. Middle and upper classes in urban areas have benefited under “India Shining”, but the poor have suffered a decline in living standards and rising food insecurity. Poverty and malnutrition, especially among women, children, and people who belong to scheduled castes and tribes, remain very high.

Large sections of Indian society suffer from gross poverty and deprivation, which co-exists with high and very high incomes and growth rates of income for a very small section. One-third of the world’s poor live in India. 83.6 crore Indians survive on less than Rs. 20 a day or Rs. 600 a month. Over 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night. About 7000 Indians die every day of hunger.  India has the second highest poverty—after Nepal—among all Asian countries.

About 20 lakh children die every year as a result of serious malnutrition and preventable diseases. Nearly 50% of children suffer from moderate or severe malnutrition. This is one of the highest levels of child malnutrition in the world. Nearly 30% of newborn are underweight. 79% of children of age 6-35 months are anaemic. 56% of married women are anaemic.

The apathetic attitude of the government towards the poor and the hungry is well sustained by the Indian society in general. As Jean Dreze, an economist and academic, said: “The government can’t get away with large-scale famine, but it can get away with chronic hunger. It has become an accepted part of life in India.”

Greed in Christian Religion

Greed has also entered Christian religion. Mushrooming of corporate churches, corporate Christian organizations and corporate Christian gospel reflect the mammonization of God and religion. The “gospel entrepreneurs” with their claims of unhindered direct access to God craftily unite God and Mammon with their make-rich-quick “good news”. These “gospel entrepreneurs” subscribe to corporate standards of operation with wealth as the highest “spiritual” value, and prosperity as their gospel. They advocate marketing approach to Christ and Christian religion and give optimistic messages intended to “make people feel good about themselves.” Their philosophy is to make the church as uninterfering and entertaining as possible in order to attract more “customers” into the “spiritual corporate company”. Their doctrine, known as Word of faith, is essentially that God rewards one’s faith almost always in the form of an abundance of wealth. They keep reminding the members the law of reciprocity: “Give generously and you will receive generously from God”. Consecration of wallets is their theology. This “spiritual culture” is not only in step with the corporate greed culture around, but also funneling crores of rupees annually into the coffers of these “spiritual corporate companies”. The number of “God’s crorepathis” is on the raise.

For example, an American televangelist, who visits India every year to proclaim “the power of the Word of faith” and has a $9 crore-a-year turnover from the “corporate gospel business”, was “paid” an annual salary of $9,00,000 and her husband, the Ministries’ Board vice president, $4,50,000 in 2002 and 2003. After the criticisms, she currently receives an annual salary of $2,50,000. Although the law in America states that the tax-exempt religious property “cannot be held for private or corporate profit,” according to a report, among other personal benefits reaped from the “corporate gospel ministry”, the evangelist of the God of mammon has a $20 lakh house and receives a separate $5 lakh annual housing allowance (apart from the utilities and maintenance bills paid by the ministries), is provided with free personal use of a $1 crore corporate jet and luxury cars including $1,07,000 silver-gray Mercedes Sedan, and authorized to use a fund of $7,90,000 “at their discretion”. This “gospel entrepreneur” also receives a portion of the $30 lakh a year in royalties earned from books and tapes sold (even though in reality it was the employees who help in writing). The board consists of the evangelist, her spouse, their children, and friends. The list of the ministry’s personal property worth nearly $57 lakhs of furniture, artwork, glassware, and the latest equipment and machinery includes: $49,000 conference table with six chairs, $11,000 clock, $1,05,000 boat, $42,200 worth of ten vases, and a $5,700 porcelain crucifixion. Of the $9 crore annual “profits” from the “gospel business” the ministry spends 10% on charitable works around the world, including India.  

Observer reports about another popular American televangelist to whom the combination of Ministry and Mammon has provided with a net worth estimated at between $20 crores and $100 crores. It gives an example of the way he raised money for a “noble cause” in Africa. Through an emotional fundraising drive on his TV station (this Christian television network is also popular in India), the evangelist raised several crore dollars for his tax-free charitable trust. It is said that he gave $70 lakhs to alleviate the misery of refugees fleeing genocide in Rwanda. More interesting is the way the funds were used in Africa. He bought planes to shuttle medical supplies in and out of the refugee camp in Goma, Congo (previously called Zaire). However, an investigative reporter discovered that over a six-month period, except for one medical flight, the planes were used to supply equipment for a diamond mining operation at a distance from Goma. It was found that he actually flew on one plane ferrying equipment to his mines. The spokesperson of his Ministries countered the criticism that by diverting the planes for diamond mining, the evangelist was actually carrying out God’s work. He further told that the planes proved unfit for supplying medicine, and so the evangelist used them for the diamond hunt which, if successful, would have freed the people of the Congo from lives of starvation and poverty.

Thus, Christian ministry has become a corporate business with the owners of these spiritual corporate companies becoming wealthy on the pretext of serving the poor and the needy. The God of mammon obscures the God of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of greed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some time ago I happened to meet a Christian real estate agent. She said, God is the greatest realtor, because he owns the entire universe. But what she forgot to mention was, the unique son of this “greatest realtor” once said: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9.58).

Greed plays an important role in the fall of Adam and Eve. It is at the root of sin. The desire in Eve for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil did not arise till the intervention of the serpent. It arose only when the serpent “described them as desirable in order to be like God.” This awakening of her desire for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is made clear in the text: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3.6). This was not “a momentary desire, but fundamental yearning.” Underlying the desire to possess what God possessed was the greed of Eve and Adam: to be wise like God.

Therefore, greed is at the root of sin. Greed is the essence of fallen human nature.

What are the consequences of greed?

  1. It promotes an egocentric outlook on life. What follows, then, is the neglect of higher ideals in the “icy water of egoistical calculation”, as the Communist Manifesto puts it. This is clearly evident from the fact that America has the world’s highest rate of divorce and, according to family counsellors, “arguments about money are precipitating factors in 90 per cent of divorce cases.” I was told by an Indian Christian leader who works among college and university students that the number of potential divorces among families where both spouses work in IT sector is raising alarmingly.
  2. “Chronic self-absorption”. The unremitting craving for things leaves people with little time and patience to think about others. Hence people become unmindful of the maladies of their society. For instance, how many of them know that 83.6 crore Indians survive on less than Rs. 20 a day or Rs. 600 a month; over 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night; and about 7000 Indians die every day of hunger.

Mother Theresa once said: “One of the greatest deceases is to be nobody to anybody.” It is poverty to live for oneself ignoring your neighbour’s suffering, hunger and death. These neo-poor look with their eyes the suffering and hungry, but do not see. They listen with their ears the cries and agony of the poor and hungry, but do not hear. Because they are absorbed in self-gratification. This is the generation that the consumeristic culture creates.

Proverbs 1.10-19 says: “My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit. We shall find all kinds of costly things; we shall fill our houses with booty. Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse” – my child, do not walk in their way, keep your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood. For in vain the net baited while the bird is looking on; yet they lie in wait-to kill themselves! And set an ambush-for their own lives! Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.”

Church and Its Dark History

June 11, 2014

The Catholic Irish Babies Scandal: It Gets Much Worse

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

http://www.alternet.org/belief/catholic-irish-babies-scandal-it-gets-much-worse

une 10, 2014 |  

It gets worse. One week after revelations of how over the span of 35 years, a County Galway home for unwed mothers cavalierly  disposed of the bodies of nearly 800 babies and toddlers on a site that held a septic tank, new reports are leveling a whole different set of charges about what happened to the children of those Irish homes.

In harrowing new information revealed this weekend, the Daily Mail has uncovered medical records that suggest 2,051 children across several Irish care homes were given a diphtheria vaccine from pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome in a suspected illegal drug trial that ran from 1930 to 1936. As the Mail reports, “Michael Dwyer, of Cork University’s School of History, found the child vaccination data by trawling through tens of thousands of medical journal articles and archive files. He discovered that the trials were carried out before the vaccine was made available for commercial use in the UK.”  

There is no evidence yet—and there may never be—that any family consent was ever offered, or about how many children had adverse effects or died as a result of the vaccinations. Dwyer told the Mail, “The fact that no record of these trials can be found in the files relating to the Department of Local Government and Public Health, the Municipal Health Reports relating to Cork and Dublin, or the Wellcome Archives in London, suggests that vaccine trials would not have been acceptable to government, municipal authorities, or the general public. However, the fact that reports of these trials were published in the most prestigious medical journals suggests that  this type of human experimentation was largely accepted by medical practitioners and facilitated by authorities in charge of children’s residential institutions.”

In a related story, GSK — formerly Wellcome — revealed Monday on Newstalk Radio that 298 children in 10 different care homes were involved in medical trials in the ’60s and ’70s that left “80 children ill after they were  accidentally administered a vaccine intended for cattle.”

Irish Minister of State for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon has  called for a public inquiry into the treatment of the children and their deaths. The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has also called for an investigation, adding that it should be free of Catholic Church interference. “We have to look at the whole culture of mother and baby homes; they’re talking about medical experiments there,” he told RTE Radio this weekend. “They’re very complicated and very sensitive issues, but the only way we will come out of this particular period of our history is  when the truth comes out.” And a spokesman for GSK said the latest revelations,  “if true, are clearly very distressing.” 

This is not even the first time information on these kinds of vaccine trials has come to light. In 2010, the Irish Independent uncovered how children born in the homes were subjected to a single “four-in-one” vaccine trial without their mothers’ permission. The children often didn’t even know what they’d been subjected to until well into adulthood. Appallingly,  Ireland had  no laws regarding medical testing on humans until 1987. Mari Steed, who was born at the Bessborough home in the ’60s, told the Sunday Independent, “We were used as human guinea pigs.”

What Ireland is only now beginning to fully investigate and understand is a story involving potentially thousands of children who were almost certainly neglected and mistreated, and whose deaths were addressed as a mere trash disposal issue. It is now believed a total of  upward of 4,000 children were similarly disposed of in other homes across the country. It’s a story of untold even higher numbers of children who were unwitting subjects in a vaccine test that further refused to see them as human beings, capable of fear and pain. 

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And an interesting insight into why so many children may have been so casually treated and tossed away was revealed in a recent feature on the scandal in the Independent. Babies born to unwed mothers—and this, let it be noted, would have included mothers who were raped—“were denied baptism and, if they died from the illness and disease rife in such facilities,  also denied a Christian burial.” In other words, the Catholic institutions that these women and their children were forced to turn to as their only refuge viciously turned their backs on them — treating them, quite literally, as garbage.

This is abuse of the highest order. Abuse in life, abuse in death. Carried out by religious orders so warped, so perverted in their utter lack of mercy that they participated in the suffering of an unfathomable number of babies and children. This is what the Catholic Church of Ireland is capable of, when it is given free rein over the bodies of its most vulnerable members. And an official inquiry hasn’t even begun. As Michael Dwyer told the Mail this weekend, “What I have found is just the tip of a very large and submerged iceberg.”

 

Materialism And Misery

June 11, 2014

By Graham Peebles

07 June, 2014
Countercurrents.org, http://www.countercurrents.org/peebles070614.htm

London: We live under the omnipresent shadow of a political/economic system, which promotes materiality, selfishness and individual success over group wellbeing. It is a model of civilisation that is making us miserable and ill. Dependent on continuous consumption, everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, and competition and ambition are extolled as virtues. Together with reward and punishment this trinity of division has infiltrated and polluted all areas of contemporary life, including health care and education.

It is a system that denies compassion and social unity, unhappiness and mental illness, as well as extreme levels of inequality (income and wealth) flow from the unjust root, causing social tensions, eroding trust and community. Over half the world’s population (3.5 billion people) live in suffocating poverty on under $2 a day (the World Bank’s official poverty line), whilst the wealthiest 10% owns 85% of global household wealth. This level of inequality is growing, is unjust and shameful, and has far reaching consequences. Materialistically obsessed societies such as America (where income and wealth inequality is the highest of any industrialised nation), have higher levels of drug and alcohol dependency, mental illness, crime and incarceration, as well as child pregnancies and homicides, than more equal nations. People in unequal societies are suspicious of ‘the other’ – that’s anyone who looks thinks, and/or acts differently – and generally speaking don’t trust one another. A mere 15% of people in America confessed to trusting their fellow citizens, compared to 60% in less unequal parts of the world. The resulting divisions aggravate social tensions, fuelling criminality and a cycle of mistrust and paranoia is set in motion.

Focus on the material, on self-fulfillment and success places us in competition with one another and strengthens feelings of distrust, alienation and division. All of which run contrary to and move us away from our underlying nature, resulting in the inculcation of fear and insecurity. Mental illness, including anxiety and depression – a worldwide epidemic claiming 5% of the global population – are further consequences of this dysfunctional social model. Millions are hooked on pharmaceuticals (legal and illegal), much to the delight of the multi-national drug companies whose yearly profits in America alone nestle comfortably in the trillions of US $. Suicide, according to a major report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is the third highest cause of death amongst adolescents (road accidents and HIV are one and two), and the primary cause is depression.

Desire division discontent

Over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha taught that desire and attachment to the object(s) of desire is the root of all suffering. His message of moderation and balance is more relevant today than perhaps at any other time.

Those who love material objects are less inclined to love other people and the natural environment. So says Tim Kasser of Knox University, Illinois in ‘The High Price of Materialism’ after various studies. Love of objects strengthens the desire principle, causing fear and dissatisfaction, giving rise to anxiety, stress and unhappiness. Desire entraps: insatiable, it breeds fear and is the underlying cause of discontent and all manner of associated sufferings. “Abandoning all desire and acting free from longing, without any sense of mineness or sense of ego one attains to peace.” [Bhagavad Gita 11, verse 71] Such perennial truths expressed by the Buddha, Christ and other visionary teachers as well as Krishna are ignored in the search for immediate happiness derived from sensory pleasure.

The neo-liberal model promotes such short-term artificial goals: goals that strengthen desire, greed and dissatisfaction, pre-requisites for encouraging consumerism and materialism and the perpetual expansion of the ubiquitous ‘market’. In a detailed study by Baylor University, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience Jo-Ann Tsang found that materialistic people “are more likely to focus on what they do not have and are unable to be grateful for what they do have, whether it is their family, a nice house or a good job.” Contentment is the natural enemy of the system; discontent is it’s life-blood, serving well the ‘Masters of Mankind’ as Adam Smith famously tagged the ruling elite and their ‘vile maxim ‘ – “all for ourselves and nothing for other people.”

In ‘ The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality’, Graham Music refers to a study at Berkeley University that seems to demonstrate Smith’s truism. “The higher up the social-class ranking people are, the less pro-social, charitable and empathetically they behaved … consistently those who were less rich showed more empathy and more of a wish to help others.” [ The Guardian ] Self-centered behavior, motivated by reward, not only erodes any sense of community and social responsibility, it breeds unhappiness. Music, a consultant child and adolescent psychotherapist at The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London , makes the point that our “ monetised western world is going to make us more and more lose touch with our social obligations.”

With its focus on the material – including the physical aspect of our-selves – the ‘monetised’ system encourages vanity, selfishness and narcissistic behavior. Further strengthening division, separation and aloneness, feelings that are in opposition to the underlying truth of human unity. “All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.” [Swami Vivekenanda ] This is the view repeatedly enunciated by those great men – divine men some would say – who have freed themselves of all limitations and have shared their wisdom with us.

We are one, brothers and sisters of One Humanity. As Mahatma Gandhi famously declared: “all humanity is one undivided and indivisible family.” Separation from one another, from the natural environment and from that which we call God is an illusion. This is the perennial lesson proclaimed loud and clear by an army of Teachers of the Race, who have sought to guide us.

A materialistic value system with its focus on the individual as opposed to the group, inevitably feeds a consciousness of separation, strengthening what Esotericism calls ‘The Great Illusion.’ If humanity is in fact one, it follows that our nature is to be unselfish, socially responsible and helpful. In a series of fascinating behavioral studies The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology observed that 14-month-old babies spontaneously acted with kindness when an adult in the room needed help. Children love helping, and they do not need a reward. Actions, which are inherently selfless, offer an intrinsic reward because they facilitate relationship with our true nature. In fact when material rewards were introduced the children’s focus shifted, they lost interest in the act of kindness and became fixated on the object of reward. Their action became conditioned and in a very real sense polluted. Observing this fact, Graham Music concludes that, “ rewards don’t make anyone happy and something very fundamental is lost when we reward for certain behaviors.” And adds that, “ other studies have shown that toddlers feel happier giving treats than receiving them”. [ Mercator Net ]

With reward and punishment come desire and fear, desire for the reward and fear or anxiety over possible punishment if we fail. The effect is individual discontent and collective disharmony. Selfishness is strengthened, and, in opposition to the underlying impulse to be helpful, kindness is sacrificed, creating the conditions for depression and stress. Studies undertaken in San Francisco found that those members of the community who “ volunteered and engaged in other forms of giving when they were adolescents were much less likely to become depressed, even as they got older. New research suggests there may be a biochemical explanation for the positive emotions associated with doing good.” [ Healthy Living ] Serving the needs of others is de-centralising, it shifts ones focus away from the self, with its petty, albeit painful anxieties.

Reward and punishment are major weapons of neo-liberalism, which has infiltrated almost every area of contemporary society. The destructive duality is a methodology common in many areas of education, and of course saturates corporate life. Goals, bonuses, commission, perks: these are the language of business, the motivating force for and of activity.

The present unjust economic model has fostered a value system rooted in materiality that is a major cause of unhappiness, anxiety and depression. Change is urgently needed; change rooted in justice and the wellbeing of the group and not the individual; change imaginatively designed, which sees the economy as a way of meeting human rights and addressing human need, not one that plays on and inflames human desire.

The materialist may hold that mankind is naturally selfish, and that competition, reward and ambition are necessary and good. Without them we would do nothing and society would grind to a dysfunctional halt, goes the narrow reactionary argument. This conveniently cynical view of man’s nature (usually one held by those who are more or less economically and socially comfortable) is fundamentally wrong and is used to perpetuate the divisive model. The damaging effects of this model are being revealed by a range of studies, which substantiate the ancient message that human kindness, selflessness and community service are not only positive attributes to aspire to, they are the healthy, natural and peaceful way for humanity to live.

Graham Peebles is Director of The Create Trust, http://www.thecreatetrust.org A UK registered charity (1115157). Running education and social development programmes, supporting fundamental Social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. Contact , E: graham@thecreatetrust.org

The Lesser Known But More Horrible American Holocaust

June 2, 2014

I think we must face the possibility that something is dreadfully wrong with society and that this is somehow connected to the bloody history of Western culture, a bloodiness that surpasses all others.— Deborah Root

The very title of David E. Stannard’s book, in which he says that ‘within no more than a handful of generations following their first encounter with Europeans, the vast majority of the Western Hemisphere’s native people had been exterminated’, is  American Holocaust . Ward Churchill, the Native American Indian activist, compares Columbus to Hitler in his wonderful but painful to read book Since Predator Came . Howard Zinn details the cruelty, violence and treachery the so called ‘civilising’ and ‘civilised’ race has committed on the Native Americans in his stunning work  A People’s History of the United States 

And yet the word holocaust automatically reminds us of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis. It is because history and knowledge are constructed by the West and tell only the ‘truths’ that suit one particular race and that extol the so called ‘democratic’ values of the West and the privileged.

Stannard writes in  American Holocaust : “Just twenty-one days after the first atomic test in the desert, the Japanese industrial city of Hiroshima was leveled by nuclear blast; never before had so many people—at least 130,000, probably many more—died from a single explosion. Just twenty-one years after Columbus’ first landing in the Caribbean, the vastly populous island that the explorer had re-named Hispaniola was effectively desolate; nearly 8,000,000 people—those Columbus chose to call Indians—had been killed by violence…It took a little longer, about the span of a single human generation, but what happened on Hispaniola was the equivalent of more than fifty Hiroshimas. And Hispaniola was only the beginning.”

In the essay titled ‘Deconstructing the Columbus Myth’ in his book  Since Predator Came , Ward Churchill says: “In 1493 Columbus returned with an invasion force of 17 ships, appointed at his own request by the Spanish Crown to install himself as “viceroy and governor of (the Caribbean islands) and the mainland” of America, a position he held until 1500. Setting up shop on the large island he called Espanola (today Haiti and Dominican Republic), he promptly instituted policies of slavery and systematic extermination of the native Taino population. Columbus’ programs reduced Taino numbers from as many as 8 million at the outset of his regime to about 3 million in 1496. Perhaps 100, 000 were left by the time the governor departed. His policies, however, remained, with the result that by 1514 the Spanish census of the island showed barely 22, 000 Indians remaining alive. In 1542 only 200 were recorded. Thereafter they were considered extinct, as were Indians throughout the Caribbean Basin, an aggregate population which totaled more than 15 million at the point of the first contact with the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, as Columbus was known.”

Churchill continues: “Moreover, the proportion of indigenous Caribbean population destroyed by the Spanish in a single generation is, no matter how the figures are twisted, far greater than the 75 percent of European Jews usually said to have been exterminated by the Nazis. Worst of all, these data apply only to the Caribbean Basin; the process of genocide in the Americas was only just beginning…”

Nobody can read Gloria Jahoda’s  The Trail of Tears: The Story of the American Indian Removals 1813-1855 and Dale Van Every’s  Disinherited: The Lost Birthright of the American Indian  without weeping inside them.  Even after more than 300 years of sustained elimination of the native people and robbing of their lands, the U. S. Senate passed the Indian Removal Act (in 1830) at the behest of President Andrew Jackson.  The misery that was forced upon the Native Americans following the Removal Act was bone-chilling.

Imagine hordes of people coming to our lands from a distant continent and start killing us, our aged ones, our little ones our wives, our infants, our sisters, our brothers and displace us from our homes and lands in which we have been living from time immemorial, and scalping our beloved ones, who were killed, to earn rewards for killing so many of us. (The Pennsylvania governor Robert Morris, in 1756, offered a reward of 150 British pounds for the scalp of every male Indian and 50 pounds for that of every female Indian). And imagine, these hordes, without satisfying with all this wanton cruelty, displacement, murder and vandalism, passing an Act to remove us from our own lands forever!  And imagine that these people keep telling the world that they are the most civilised and the most democratic!

Dale Van Every says: “The Indian was peculiarly susceptible to every sensory attribute of every natural feature of his surroundings. He lived in the open. He knew every marsh, glade, hill top, rock, spring, creek…He had never fully grasped the principle establishing private ownership of land as any more rational than private ownership of air but he loved the land with a deeper emotion than could any proprietor. He felt himself as much a part of it as the rocks and trees, the animals and birds. His homeland was holy ground, sanctified for him as the resting place of the bones of his ancestors and the natural shrine of his religion. It was from this rain-washed land of forests, streams and lakes, to which he was held by the traditions of his forefathers and his own spiritual aspirations, that he was to be driven to the arid, treeless plains of the far west, a desolate region then universally known as the Great American Desert.”

In their own vast and fertile continent, the American Indians confronted white settlers—‘looters, land seekers, defrauders, whiskey sellers, thugs’ (in the words of Howard Zinn)—everywhere and they (the Indians) were either killed or driven out. They were allowed to live only on ‘land too barren for white settlers.’

In late 1831, ‘marshaled by guards, hustled by agents, harried by contractors,’ 13,000 Choctaw Indians ‘were being herded on the way to an unknown and unwelcome destination like a flock of sick sheep…’ By midwinter 1836, more than 15,000 Creek Indians were forced to migrate. Starvation and sickness began to cause large number of deaths.

Van Every writes:  ‘The passage of the exiles could be distinguished from afar by the howling of trailing wolf packs and the circling of buzzards.’ And this is the United States which is projected by the conventional History as the greatest democracy in the world and this is the U.S. the elite India wants to emulate.

As Howard Zinn says, “There is an underside to every age about which history does not often speak, because history is written from records left by the privileged. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.” 

We should rewrite and relearn history to understand that the history we have been taught and are being taught has always whitewashed the cruelty of the oppressor and presented the welfare of the looters and the oppressors as the history and progress of the human race, hiding the actual history of cold-blooded annihilation or subjugation of the indigenous human populations and the less privileged; and the destruction and devastation of the Environment.

See the ‘civilised’ behavior of the ‘civilising’ race when Columbus and his gang settled in the ‘New Wolrd’: “Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Ciaco on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper tocken had their hands cut off and bled to death. …Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades. Las Casas tells how two of these so called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.”  (Howard Zinn,  A  People’s History of the United States )

The day of Columbus ‘  landing which triggered the total elimination of the native people of two continents is still celebrated as Columbus Day in the U. S. and many other Latin American countries as if we celebrate independence day!  Nobody who knows the true history of the U. S. can love that nation.  The nation has been built by slaughtering the Native Americans en masse. The nation has been built on the sweat and blood of the Native Africans. The nation has enriched itself by looting the resources of the people all over the world. The nation has killed more people in the world than any other nation has ever had been able to kill in the whole history of the humankind. The U. S. is the Frankenstein who created the monster called Islamic Terrorism.

The Native Americans ‘were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality and their belief in sharing.’ Columbus himself reported that  ‘ when you ask for something they have, they never say no. ‘  And this is how the ancestors of the U. S. dealt with them:

“Among the Arawak Indians, mass suicides began with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250, 000 Indians on Haiti were dead…The English landed (in the Block Island) and killed some Indians, but the rest hid in the thick forests of the island and the English went from one deserted village to the next, destroying crops. Then they sailed back to the mainland and raided Pequot villages along the coast, destroying crops again. …The English developed a tactic of warfare used earlier by Cortes: deliberate attacks on noncombatants…Captain John Mason proposed to avoid attacking the Pequot warriors, which would have overtaxed his unseasoned, unreliable troops. Battle, as such, was not his purpose. Battle is only one of the ways to destroy an enemy’s will to fight. Massacre can accomplish the same end with less risk, and Mason had determined that massacre would be his objective.” (Howard Zinn,  A  People’s History of the United States )

This is how the U. S. has treated the Native Africans: “They were packed aboard the slave ships, in spaces not much bigger than coffins, they are usually chained to the decks by the neck and legs… one of every three blacks transported overseas died, but the huge profits made it worthwhile for the slave trader, and so the blacks were packed into the holds like fish… Whatever horrors can be imagined in the transport of black slaves to America must be multiplied for black women, who were often one third of the cargo. Slave traders reported: ‘I saw pregnant women give birth to babies while chained to corpses which our drunken overseers had not removed…’” (Howard Zinn,  A People’s History of the United States )

This is how the U. S. has devastated Vietnam: “By the end of the Vietnam war, 7 million tons of bombs had been dropped on Vietnam, more than twice the total bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II—almost one 500-pound bomb for every human being in Vietnam. It was estimated that there were 20 million bomb craters in the country. In addition, poisonous sprays were dropped by planes to destroy trees and any kind of growth….On March 16, 1968, a company of American soldiers went into the hamlet of My Lai 4, in Quang Nagai province. They rounded up the inhabitants, including old people and women with infants in their arms. These people were ordered into a ditch, where they were methodically shot to death…It was estimated that between 450 and 500 people—most of them women, children and old people—had been slain and buried there….Colonel Oran Henderson, who had been charged with covering up the My Lai killings told reporters in early 1971: ‘Every unit of brigade size has its May Lai hidden someplace.’” (Howard Zinn).

But all histories we read claim that the Europeans were a civilized lot and the Africans and the Native Indians were savages! All histories speak about the ‘Whiteman’s burden’, about their ‘civilizing mission’. Even we the Indians were ‘civilized’, we were ‘modernized’, and we do have ‘democracy’, only because we have been ‘fortunate’ enough to have British Colonialism, we are taugt both by the European historians and by our own historians! 

In an article titled  The British Rule in India , written in 1853, Karl Marx says: “England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindustan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfill its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia?”

But, as Howard Zinn tells, ‘it is enough to make us question, for that time and ours, the excuse of progress in the annihilation of races, and the telling of history from the standpoint of the conquerors and leaders of Western civilization.’

Zinn continues: “So, Columbus and his successors were not coming into an empty wilderness, but into a world which in some places was as densely populated as Europe itself, where the culture was complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world. …Behind the English invasion of North America, behind their massacre of Indians, their deception, their brutality, was that special powerful drive born in civilizations based on private property.”

In India we are in dire need of writers like Howard Zinn to search and find the people who are not seen in our histories—the Adivasis (the people of Niyamgiri Hills, of the Narmada Valley, of the Dhandakaranya) who were displaced and annihilated by our ‘machine of progress’ which we borrowed from the West. We want histories written from the standpoint of manual scavengers, from the viewpoint of untouchables, from the perspective of the farmers, Dalits, children (especially girls) and women.

And we also want histories from the viewpoint of the Environment, the flora and fauna. Zinn is too much preoccupied with the cruelty of the so called civilized race against the fellow beings to give attention to their cruelty against the environment. Look at a mild sample of the savagery of the ‘civilized’: “Dismemberment was provided for in the Virginia Code of 1705. Maryland passed a law in 1723 providing for cutting off the ears of blacks who struck whites, …About twenty-five blacks and two Indians set fire to a building, then killed nine whites who came on the scene. …(all the twenty-seven) were captured by soldiers, some were burnt, others were hanged, one broke on the wheel, and one hung alive in chains in the town…one had been burned over a slow fire for eight to ten hours.”

Could the Environment have expected a better deal from such a ‘civilized’ lot?

Once in the North America, the passenger pigeons were greater in number than all other birds. They lived together, nested together, and flew together in large numbers. In summer these birds nested in the vast forests of the northern frontier regions of the continent and in winter they migrated into the comparatively warmer forests in the south. In the breeding time, flocks of these birds would land on the trees and would make hundreds of nests even on a single tree. Each flock consisted of at least a minimum of 300,000 birds!

When the white men reached North America, they started hunting the pigeons for their meat and feather. Even after these birds have been continuously hunted for five decades, a flock that flew over the Cincinnati town in 1870 consisted of 20,000 lakh pigeons! The flock had been 510 kilometer long and 1.6 kilometer wide!! In 1878, from the 64 kilometer long and 16 kilometer wide nesting area of the passenger pigeons in the Michigan state, the hunters killed 10,000 lakh of the defenseless birds.

Today there is no passenger pigeon to fly in the skies.  If the fate of the passenger pigeon, that could fly, was to disappear within decades of contact with the white man, what could have been that of the poor Giant Moa that couldn’t fly? Somewhere in the time of evolution, the Moas lost their wings. They grew up to four meter in height and weighed more than 275 kilograms. These wingless birds lived 1000 lakh years in New Zealand, till the 12 th  century when the humans entered the Pacific island. Hunting started for the bird’s meat and eggs, yet the Giants survived till the Europeans arrived and in the 1850s, they were wiped out.

The Native Americans believed that ‘the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.’

Therefore, we can’t but agree with John Collier. Howard Zinn writes: “John Collier, an American scholar who lived among Indians in the 1920s and 1930s in the American Southwest, said of their spirit: “Could we make it our own, there would be an eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace.””

From the U. S., a land from which the native inhabitants have completely been disinherited and eliminated through violence by the white settlers the so called civilised race, let’s come to Kerala to witness somewhat the same fate of another native people —the adivasis of Kerala . If the tribals in other parts of India are displaced by our undemocratic ‘development’ projects and the biggest democracy’s innumerable secret MoUs with the corporate mining business; in Kerala, it is the ‘civilised’ settlers who virtually eliminated them to grab their lands. The pauperized tribals are now a hapless lot infested with myriad grievances like the increasing number of unwed mothers (a  ‘ disease ‘  being spread by the ‘civilised’), infant deaths due to malnutrition, and alcohol  addicted men folk (also a civilised ‘disease’). 

None of their arable lands is now in their possession and all their fruit and tuber yielding hills have been encroached and deforested. They dwell in the periphery of our democracy as outcasts or rather as an eyesore to the mainstream ‘WE’ the ‘civilised’ and ‘civilising’ people. Even the mass death of their infants due to malnutrition is used to gain political mileage! In the arena of the political mud-slinging they are used just as the mud and that is their utility. Nobody is interested to give them back their lands and to let them continue their sustainable way of living. Once they lived happily in their fertile lands and forests; we deprived them of both and now their plight is that of the fish caught from the deep waters and put on the ground to survive.

The Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes Commission, which was formed in 1960 under the chairmanship of U. N. Dhebar to look into the problems of the tribal people in India, recommended returning all the tribal lands alienated since January 26, 1950, the day India became a republic, to the original owners.  The Kerala Scheduled Tribes (Restriction on Transfer of Lands and Restoration of Alienated Lands) Act, 1975 extended the date from January 26, 1950 to January 26, 1960 to protect the settlers and land grabbers.

Yet the successive Right and Left front governments showed no interest to implement the 1975 Act and to restore the alienated lands to the hapless Adivasis. The hold of the settler lobby in the political combinations of the state  is so strong  that on September 23, 1996, the Kerala Scheduled Tribes (Restriction on Transfer of Lands and Restoration of Alienated Lands) Amendment Bill, 1996 was passed by the Kerala Assembly to legalize all transactions of tribal lands that took place (of course, through fraudulent means) between 1960 and 1986. The land grabbing still continues in the tribal areas (‘ITDP report seeks action against land grab’,  The Hindu , June 17, 2013). 

Disinherited: The Lost Birthright of the Adivasis of Kerala awaits its author. 

And from Kerala let’s go to central India, into the Dhandakaranya where the adivasis are being displaced and eliminated by the Indian State to satisfy our insatiable consumerist culture, to snatch their lands and forests and rivers for the corporate business to dig out bauxite and coal, limestone and dolomite; and to produce aluminium by contaminating their rivers and devastating their forests.

In the words of Arundhati Roy, “India has a surviving adivasi population of almost 100 million. They are the ones who still know the secrets of sustainable living. If they disappear, they will take those secrets with them. Wars like Operation Green Hunt will make them disappear. So victory for the prosecutors of these wars will contain within itself the seeds of destruction, not just for adivasis but, eventually, for the human race. That’s why the war in central India is so important. …it is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past but who may really be the guides to our future. To do this, we have to ask our rulers: Can you leave the water in the rivers, the trees in the forest? Can you leave the bauxite in the mountain?” ( Broken Republic )

Sukumaran C. V. is a former JNU student and his articles on gender, communalism and environmental degradation are published in The Hindu. Email: lscvsuku@gmail.com

Why Jesus Would Have Hated Most Modern Day Religion

May 26, 2014

By Frank Schaeffer

 

A leper came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” If Jesus had been a good religious Jew, he would have said, “Be healed,” and just walked away. Instead, he stretched out his hand and touched the leper, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean,” even though he was breaking the specific rules of Leviticus. Two chapters teach that anyone touching a person with leprosy is contaminated.

Jesus certainly was not a “Bible believer,” as we use that term in the post Billy Graham era of American fundamentalist religiosity that’s used as a trade-marked product to sell religion. Jesus didn’t take the Jewish scriptures at face value. In fundamentalist terms, Jesus was a rule-breaking relativist who wasn’t even “saved,” according to evangelical standards. Evangelicals insist that you have to believe very specific interpretations of the Bible to be saved. Jesus didn’t. He undercut the scriptures.

The stories about Jesus that survived the bigots, opportunists and delusional fanatics who wrote the New Testament contain powerful and enlightened truths that would someday prove the undoing of the Church built in his name. Like a futurist vindicated by events as yet undreamed, Jesus’ message of love was far more powerful than the magical thinking of the writers of the book he’s trapped in. In Jesus’ day the institutions of religion, state, misogyny and myth were so deeply ingrained that the ultimate dangerousness of his life example could not be imagined. For example his feminism, probably viewed as an eccentricity in his day, would prove transformational.

Jesus believed in God rather than in a book about God. The message of Jesus’ life is an intervention in and an acceleration of the evolution of empathy. Consider this story from the book of Matthew: “A woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’ Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed at that moment.”

Jesus recognized a bleeding woman touching him as a sign of her faith. By complimenting rather than rebuking her, Jesus ignored another of his scripture’s rules: “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time her [period], or if she has a discharge beyond the time, all the days of her discharge she shall continue in uncleanness… Every bed on which she lies during all the days of her discharge shall be treated as [unclean]… Everything on which she sits shall be unclean … Whoever touches these things shall be unclean” (Leviticus 15:25).

Jesus’ un-first-century antics went beyond coddling lepers and welcoming the touch of a bleeding woman. He held a dead girl’s hand, violating explicit commands: “He shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean, even for his father or for his mother” (Leviticus 21:11) and “Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him” (Numbers 19:13).

As an ultimate to rule-keeping scripture zealots everywhere, Jesus hung out with whores. Embracing whores was a double rebuke to the Jewish scripture-thumpers because it put Jesus on the side of the pagan, prostitute-condoning Roman occupiers and made him a traitor in the culture wars of the day. Yet, the anointing of Jesus by a prostitute is one of the few events reported in all four gospels. As Jesus blessed and defended her, Matthew’s gospel says the disciples “were indignant” while Luke describes the woman who did the anointing as “a woman in that town who lived a sinful life,” which is a coded phrase for a filthy hooker who is certainly not one of us.

Jesus’ embrace of a woman from an enemy tribe in a culture where tribal belonging was paramount distressed both his followers and enemies. His attitude to the “other” was as incomprehensible as if he’d blurted “E=mc2 is the equation of mass–energy equivalence.” The Samaritan woman at the well knew that his actions were shocking. When Jesus stopped to talk to her, she said, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? For Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9).

Jesus responded by attacking the preeminence of religion and group identity, offering an entirely new way of looking at spirituality by emphasizing basic human dignity above nation, state, gender or religion:

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:19–24).

Jesus rejects tribalism, literalism, group identity, specific religions, and gatekeepers as well as his Jewish identity. The phrase “Salvation is from the Jews” is paradoxically a reference to his liberating departure from tribal identity in favor of common humanity.

What is the implication of Jesus-centric non-theological, non-dogmatic salvation? It’s the abolishing of exclusion of the other as “unsaved.”

What about God? Jesus says that God doesn’t want (or maybe no longer wants) worship via exclusionary religion, sacrifice or membership in the correct tribe, sect or nation. No, Jesus says, the Father wants “true worshipers [who] will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.”

In other words Jesus decouples the credulous attachment to a tribal geography and religion-based identity. Jesus declares we’re all one family. Goodbye, Abrahamic covenant, Jerusalem, Mecca, Rome and Constantinople. Au revoir, holy places, River Ganges, passports, borders, empires, Lourdes, clan, tribe, Hellenism, Russian imperial ambition and American exceptionalism. No more chants of “USA! USA!” for, “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.” According to Jesus, there never was and never will be a “greatest country on earth,” or a “city set on a hill” or a “chosen people.”

 

 

Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back.

Indian Christians Under A Narendra Modi Led Government

May 22, 2014

By Shehzad Poonawalla

21 May, 2014
Countercurrents.org

 

The controversial track record and role of BJP’s (India’s right wing, Hindu nationalist opposition party) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, with respect to India’s largest minority community namely the Muslims, has been a matter of intense introspection ever since the 2002 Gujarat riots, which saw over 2000 people being killed and lakhs getting displaced. The omissions and commissions of the BJP led state government under the chief-ministership of Narendra Modi came under severe criticism not only from the Supreme Court of India and the apex body for human rights-the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) but also from the then Prime Minister of India and undisputed leader of the BJP, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who described the 2002 riots as a “blot on Indian democracy”! Several intellectuals, liberals and those opposing the idea of communal politics have written, debated and elaborated upon the misgivings, many of them justified, that the Muslim minority community continues to harbor towards Mr. Modi and the BJP.

What hasn’t drawn as much attention however, quite unfairly one must add, is the outlook of the BJP, its affiliates and its current poster-boy Mr. Modi towards India’s third largest community- the Christians. Come 26th  of May 2014 , India will have a new Prime Minister and it’s important to understand what the new government’s approach towards Christians could be. This is a question, that can perhaps be answered, based on experiences of BJP  led governments and from an academic research into their ideological moorings.

A Historical Perspective:

The Sangh Parivar or the “family of organizations”, inspired by the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an Indian variant of the Klu Klux Klan, represents the Hindu nationalist movement, whose ultimate aim lies in transforming India into a theocratic Hindu Rashtra or Hindu state. It comprises of Bhartiya Janata Party  (BJP)- which is the political outfit,  Bharatiya Kisan Sangh , literally,  Indian Farmers’ Association  Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh , i.e. the Indian Labour Association  ,  Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad  or the  All India Students’ Forum  Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha - Youth wing of BJP, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch  which is the  Nativist Awakening Front  , the  Vishwa Hindu Parishad  or the  World Hindu Council and perhaps the most militant of them all- the Bajrang Dal , whose members have been involved in acts of violence against Muslims in various riots, desecration of churches and most notably the gruesome murder of Australian Christian  missionaryGraham Staines  and his two sons.

M S Golwalkar, perhaps the most revered chief of the RSS, who is fondly remembered as “Guruji” (Teacher) by his ideological foot soldiers, reveals the outlook of the Sangh Parivar towards Christians in his second book,  Bunch of Thoughts  where he devotes Chapter XII to three “Internal Threats” namely Muslims, Christians and the Communists! He further writes about Indian Muslims and Christians that: “Together with the change in their faith, gone are the spirit of love and devotion for the nation. Nor does it end there. They have also developed a feeling of identification with the enemies of this land. They look to some foreign lands as their holy places.” 

Another celebrated figure in the Sangh Parivar narrative is V.D Savarkar. In his book “Hindutva” he groups Indian Muslims and Christians together as ones who do not share “the tie of the common homage we pay to our great civilisation – our Hindu culture.” He adds: “Christian and Mohammedan communities who were but very recently Hindus cannot be recognised as Hindus since their adoption of the new cult they had ceased to own Hindu civilisation ( Sanskriti ) as a whole… For though Hindusthan to them is Fatherland, as to any other Hindu, yet it is not to them a Holyland too. Their holyland is far off in Arabia or Palestine.”

This world view of Indian Christians, who much like Indian Muslims, are perceived as “outsiders” or “foreigners” continues to be the guiding political narrative of the entire Sangh Parivar even today. After one of the worst anti-Christian riots in India in 2008 in the state of Orissa, where the BJP was in power in the state government along with a regional party, VHP-Bajrang Dal activists took the lead in provoking violence that lead to over 75 deaths, thousands being displaced and hundreds of churches being burnt down. Manoj Pradhan, a BJP legislator, was even convicted in 2010 for his role in the riots! Yet , the topmost leadership of the BJP, including its former President Venkaiah Naidu, virtually justified the riots by terming “conversions as the root cause of violence and social disturbances” and saying that a “strong federal law to prevent religious conversion across the country would be brought” if BJP regained power in the general elections expected to be held in 2009!

Unfortunately, Mr.Modi has never come out in public to reject the exclusivist world view of the RSS with respect to Christians in particular and minorities in general. When asked about his views in this regard in a recent interview on ABP news, Modi simply evaded the question. 

Christians under Mr.Modi’s government in Gujarat 

In another television interview in April 2014 , a question was posed to Mr.Modi on what steps he would take to ensure no churches are broken down if he becomes Prime Minister to which he replied, to the utter shock of many, that he had never heard of such incidents taking place! This prompted Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, which represents about 45 churches across the country to angrily retort “How can he forget the gruesome attacks on tribal Christians in Gujarat’s Dangs district in 1998 during the NDA regime when members of the Right-wing cadres burnt down churches? Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Prime Minster, himself had visited the district to take stock of the situation.”

Perhaps this is why when there were several protests in front of City Hall in Ahmedabad about an ancient Christian cemetery being desecrated in Sabarmati no action came about against the perpetrators, suspected to owing allegiance to the Sangh Parivar.

Tehmina Arora, an attorney from New Delhi in her recent  Testimony before the Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations in the U.S. House of Representatives speaks about how anti-conversion laws, co-incidentally enacted in the states primarily ruled by the BJP, were being misused often to “target and harass Christians.” She adds “The law in Gujarat state requires that the person seeking to convert to another religion must take prior permission from the district magistrate before any conversion “ceremony” is performed. The Acts, therefore, greatly impinge on the freedom of conscience of a prospective convert, and also on their right to privacy. The law renders the person incapable of taking the final decision with regard to his or her faith, and instead requires approval of the district authority.This is an invasion of the privacy and violation of both international law and the Constitution of India. This is violation of the right to freedom of association, the right to privacy and the freedom of conscience.”

An example of this was evident when in March 2012 the Gujarat High Court, in a significant judgment, restored the marriage license of a Marriage Registrar, which had been wrongfully revoked for formalizing a marriage between a Christian and a Hindu, by the Narendra Modi government, which invoked the notorious Freedom of Religion Act 2003-Gujarat’s anti-conversion law.

In the same testimony Tehmina also states “Over the past five years, attacks have been reported across the country, though primarily concentrated in the states where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power and where groups associated with his party have been active. Violence is fuelled primarily by non-state actors who are guided by the Hindutva ideology, which sees India as a Hindu nation, where religious minorities are second class citizens.”

Mr. Modi’s personal antipathy towards Christians was most obvious after the 2002 riots when he constantly emphasized on the Christian name of the Chief Election Commissioner James Lyngdoh (who ironically is an atheist) in his speeches for taking a decision to delay elections in Gujarat back then. At a public rally near Vadodara Modi thundered : “Some journalists asked me recently, ‘Has James Michael Lyngdoh come from Italy” I said I don’t have his  janam patri (birth certificate) , I will have to ask Rajiv Gandhi. Then the journalists said, ‘Do they (Lyngdoh and Sonia Gandhi) meet in church?” I replied, ‘Maybe they do’.”

The ‘International Religious Freedom Report 2003′ released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour of the US State Department exposed how the Gujarat government had aggressively surveyed Christian families and Christian agencies during the reporting period, allegedly under the orders of Chief Minister Narendra Modi. “The survey activities were carried out by police, often in the middle of the night. The survey was first taken up in February, which continued through May” it added. This, even after the Gujarat High Court’s ruling in March that such a survey was illegal. Apparently, the survey included questions about the number of converts in the household or parish, the circumstances of conversion, and the sources of funding received from abroad, etc.

In October 2002, Gujarat’s senior cabinet minister and a colleague of Narendra Modi, Karsan Patel, publicly threatened 400 tribal children, who were boarders at a Christian school in Subir “to decide whether they want to live as Hindus or die as Christians”. No action was taken against him.

It’s not surprising then, given the silent persecution of Christians in Gujarat, that their already miniscule population (about 0.56% in 2001) has fallen by 5% in entire decade whilst Modi was at the helm of affairs.

Christians under various BJP led governments

A report compiled in 2011 shows there have been 172 incidents across the country in which Christians have been attacked. Karnataka, under BJP rule back then, topped the list with 47 incidents followed by Odisha, which in 2008 had witnessed anti-Christian violence led by Sangh Parivar groups, witnessed 25 incidents and coming in at third position was another BJP ruled state of Madhya Pradesh with 15 incidents! BJP legislator from Karnataka Prahlad Remani even went to the extent of stating that  “People must remain aware and watchful about the spread of these seeds of Christianity,” and that “Christianity must be weeded out of Karnataka” . The sentiments were echoed by VHP’s Pravin Togadia who declared in Ahmedabad that they shall declare Gujarat a “Hindu State” by 2015!

In 2003, the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, printed a vicious attack on Mother Teresa in its special issue written by N.S. Rajaram. The article began by arguing that the Indian government should not send any representative for her beatification ceremony. It then went on to say that all the Church is known for these days is “mass child molestation, homosexual priests and even murders”.

Not to be outdone in this quoting the scriptures of hatred against Christians, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Vice-President , Acharya Giriraj Kishore, termed Pope John Paul II as a ‘big dacoit’ who was “ changing the demography of India through illegal conversions.”

In its hard-hitting piece titled “An assault on Christians” in July 2000, a leading magazine Frontline reported that “A wave of attacks against Christian evangelists and places of worship through 1998 culminated in the murder of the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons on January 23, 1999 by Dara Singh, a Hindutva fanatic with links to the Sangh Parivar,who had been arrested in that connection. “ It further added that “A second wave of terror against Christian missionaries, that now extended to the States of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, had culminated in a series of bomb blasts in churches in Karnataka, Goa and Andhra Pradesh.”

All of this was happening under the wakeful watch of a BJP led-RSS bred central government in Delhi.

While the BJP off late, under its relatively moderate faces like the chief minister Manohar Parrikar from Goa, does flaunt the fact that it has six Christian elected legislators in a House of 40 members in a state that has almost 30% Christian population, it hardly re-assures those like Pastor Christopher of Hyderabad who reveals to the International Christian Concern that “There have been continuous threats from Hindu radicals,” and how “Christians continue to be treated as second class citizens in this country.” Having received several threats over the last 15 years, Pastor Christopher says that he was once threatened by RSS to stop all church activities or else they would “chop him into pieces!” 

The influence of the Sangh Parivar in the sphere of communalizing education in state governments run by the BJP is also well known. The one-man committee of academic Francis D’Souza outlined several examples of “saffron tint” in textbooks from Class V to IX published under the imprint of the Karnataka Textbook Society (KTS) during the BJP regime. Francis D’Souza was shocked to report that it wasn’t just History text books but also Science text books that were distorted by unscientific myths perpetrated by the Sangh propaganda machinery.

The Road Ahead

In June 2013, a few months before Narendra Modi was officially anointed as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, in what looked like his strongest endorsement for Modi said that “whether somebody likes it or not, Hindutva is the only way to bring about a change in the country. It is where the country’s respect lies.” Two months later, in Kolkata, Mohan Bhagwat stressing on the need of “Hindus having an aggressive, nationalistic stand” stated that Modi was the only person who had remained “rooted” in the RSS ideology. Modi, who has been a RSS functionary from a very young age, has revitalized the RSS. According to independent reports, in less than 3 months after his announcement as the BJP’s PM candidate over 2000 shakhas (branches) of RSS sprung up all over India. It’s clear that the RSS is pinning all its hopes on Modi and even unleashed its entire organizational and propaganda machinery to run his campaign. In return, the RSS expects that their long, unfulfilled agendas would see fruition under a Modi-led government.

A few of the RSS agendas even found their way in the BJP manifesto, with renewed vigour, this time around. This includes their favorite themes of pursuing a uniform civil code in India- which invariably hinges on the plank of stifling non-Hindu religious and cultural freedoms, abolishing Article 370 that gives autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, building the Ram Temple at Ayodhya, cow protection, etc. In fact, the manifesto even declared India to be a “natural home for persecuted Hindus” who shall be “welcome to seek refuge here.” So a Nepali Hindu could very well make India his home but if a Keralite Christian with a UK passport was being persecuted, he wouldn’t get refuge in India as per the current formulation in the BJP manifesto.

The ultimate agenda of the RSS is to see the creation of a Hindu Rashtra or a Hindu state. This would require the “undoing” of the current Constitutional scheme of “secularism” – an idea which has always been under attack by the Sangh Parivar. The RSS would require a Modi-led government to systematically “harmonize” independent institutions that can pose a challenge to the accomplishment of this goal.

Firstly, the RSS would require a Modi led BJP to get a majority in Parliament so that he can amend the Constitution accordingly. Since, “secularism” is a part of the “basic structure” of the Constitution and has been put out of the bounds of legislative amendment by the Supreme Court in its earlier judgment, the RSS will also need the executive government to ensure, perhaps through amenable appointments, that the Supreme Court goes along with the proposed changes to the Constitution itself. To those who find this to be far-fetched, may I remind you about the “National Commission to review the working of the Constitution” set up by the BJP government under Prime Minister Vajpayee. It’s quite another thing that the BJP never ended up getting the majority in Parliament they were expecting to push these agendas through back then!

But this time around, with Modi securing a majority in Lok Sabha, the RSS will seek the completion of its “unfinished agenda”. The potential next steps would be, as a senior leader of the BJP who draws all his backing from the RSS -Dr. Subramanian Swamy suggests, to disenfranchise the non-Hindu citizens of India. This would require the “taming” of the Election Commssion of India too, which has co-incidentally been on the radar of the BJP in the last few weeks. Recently, top RSS ideologue told the Hindu newspaper that Modi is expected to deliver on the Ram Temple and the RSS means business when it says that. Once these long cherished goals are attained, it would become easier to facilitate socio-economic and socio-cultural changes that would be needed to transform India into a theocratic Hindu state, ironically modeled on the same exclusivist plank that led to the creation of Pakistan as a “homeland for only Muslims”.

In this mission, the RSS would obviously need a supportive media that does not question its agendas or create roadblocks and hence Narendra Modi’s assistance- governmental and otherwise, would be sought to co-opt or intimidate the owners of media groups and intellectuals into playing along with them. Already, we find that many a media organizations, thanks to their varied business interests,prostrating before Narendra Modi, even before he has been sworn in as Prime Minister. 

Those who think only Muslims ought to be cautious about Mr.Modi, think again! Evidence suggests that Christians too will have to brace themselves up for a rather challenging period as Modi’s “majority government” exhibits “majoritarian symptoms”. 

Mr. Modi’s campaign slogan reads “Good days are near!” Ironically, it is this very lure of a “great days ahead” that blinded Germany into seeing Hitler as their leader and ignoring what he truly represented. One can only hope and pray that India doesn’t go down the same path.

Shehzad Poonawalla is a 1st generation, self-made, 26 year old, lawyer-activist engaged in politics and civil rights movement. He is the youngest Additional Private Secretary to Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, Govt of India.

Tweet @Shehzad_Ind
Email: shehzadpoonawalla@yahoo.com


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