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What do Scholars say about Jesus’ Resurrection: is it just a Myth?

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again.”–Jesus Christ

“When he said that He himself would rise again from the dead, the third day after He was crucified, He said something that only a fool would dare say… No founder of any world religion known to men ever dared say a thing like that.” –Wilbur Smith (Bible scholar)

“I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my own ego will survive.” –Bertrand Russell (English Philosopher)

The story of Jesus’ resurrection is foundational to Christianity as a religion. To deny it is in effect to dismiss Christianity as just another myth which modern “enlightened” man ought to dismiss, the sooner the better, as a mere legend embellished over time. It is also to declare the whole of the gospels’ narration as an hoax perpetrated on human-kind in the last two thousand years. This is usually the attitude of assorted agnostics and atheists vis a vis Christianity and religion in general.

What we read in the gospels is that Jesus appeared alive to his disciples after his crucifixion and burial. They claim not only to have seen him but also to have eaten with him, touched him, and spent forty days with him. If this is false, it invalidates everything he said about himself, about the meaning of life and man’s destiny after his death. As Paul aptly puts it: “If Christ did not resurrect, our faith is in vain.” It is founded upon a lie. On the other hand, if the claim of resurrection is true, then, as written by theologian R.C. Sproul “Jesus has the credentials and certification that no other religious leader possesses.” Indeed, all other religious leaders are dead, but Christianity insists that Christ is alive. So, is Jesus’ resurrection a fantastic fact or a vicious myth? To find out, we need to look at the evidence of history and draw proper conclusions.

Many skeptics have attempted to disprove the resurrection. Josh McDowell was one such skeptic who spent more than seven hundred hours researching the evidence for the resurrection. McDowell stated this regarding the importance of the resurrection: “I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, or it is the most fantastic fact of history. McDowell later wrote his classic work, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (1999), documenting what he discovered.

There are other skeptics such Bertrand Russell, quoted above, who is not concerned with historical facts but denies the resurrection; the mythologist Joseph Campbell who declares that the resurrection is not a factual event, just as most narrations in mythology are neither factual nor historical; the theologian John Dominic Crossan who seems to agree with Campbell. None of those skeptics present hard evidence for their views.

In advance of his death, Jesus told his disciples that he would be betrayed, arrested, and crucified and that he would come back to life three days later. That’s a strange plan! Jesus was no entertainer willing to perform for others on demand; instead, he promised that his death and resurrection would prove to people (if their minds and hearts were open) that he was indeed the Messiah. In other words, it is perfectly logical to suppose that since Jesus had clearly told his disciples that he would rise again after his death, failure to keep that promise would expose him as a fraud.

We know the facts of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross. Most scholars do not dispute the fact that there is an historical Jesus who was born in Palestine at the time when Caesar Augustus was Rome’s emperor, and who died under Tiberius’ reign when Palestine was governed by Pontius Pilate. An even greater darkness of depression annihilated the dreams of those who had become infatuated with Jesus’ charisma and joyful vitality. Former Lord High Chancellor of Britain, Lord Hailsham, notes that “The tragedy of the Cross was not that they crucified a melancholy figure, full of moral precepts, ascetic and gloomy … What they crucified was a young man, vital, full of life and the joy of it, the Lord of life itself … someone so utterly attractive that people followed him for the sheer fun of it.”

Pilate wanted verification that Jesus was dead before allowing his crucified body to be buried. So a Roman guard thrust a spear into Jesus’ side. The mixture of blood and water that flowed out was a clear indication that Jesus was dead. “The dead do not bleed, ordinarily, but the right auricle of the human heart holds liquid blood after death, and the outer sac hold a serum called hydropericardium.” Once his death was certified by the guards, Jesus’ body was then taken down from the cross and buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Roman guards next sealed the tomb, and secured it with a 24-hour watch.

Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples were in shock. Dr. J. P. Moreland explains how devastated and confused they were after Jesus’ death on the cross. “They no longer had confidence that Jesus had been sent by God. They also had been taught that God would not let his Messiah suffer death. So they dispersed. The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its tracks.” All hope was vanquished. Rome and the Jewish leaders had prevailed – or so it seemed.

But it wasn’t the end. The Jesus movement did not disappear, and Christianity exists today as the world’s largest religion. In a New York Times article, Peter Steinfels cites the startling events that occurred three days after Jesus’ death: “Shortly after Jesus was executed, his followers were suddenly galvanized from a baffled and cowering group into people whose message about a living Jesus and a coming kingdom, preached at the risk of their lives, eventually changed an empire. Something happened.

There are only five plausible explanations for Jesus’ alleged resurrection, as portrayed in the New Testament: 1) Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. 2) The “resurrection” was a conspiracy. 3) The disciples were hallucinating. 4) The account is legendary or mythological. 5) It really happened. Let’s work our way through these options. In the first place we need to ascertain that there was a corpse. After all, occasionally “corpses,” or people who are believed dead, do recover and walk away.

One place to ascertain that is in the reports of non-Christian historians from around the time when Jesus lived. Three of these historians mentioned the death of Jesus: Lucian (c.120 – after c.180) referred to Jesus as a crucified sophist (philosopher). Josephus (c.37 – c.100 ) wrote, “At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of amazing deeds. When Pilate condemned him to the cross, the leading men among us, having accused him, those who loved him did not cease to do so.” Tacitus (c. 56 – c.120) wrote, “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty … at the hands of our procurator, Pontius Pilate.”

Noted skeptic James Tabor stated, “I think we need have no doubt that given Jesus’ execution by Roman crucifixion he was truly dead.” In light of such historical and medical evidence, we seem to be on good grounds for dismissing the first of our five options. Jesus was clearly dead, “of that there was no doubt.”

However, many others have questioned how Jesus’ body disappeared from the tomb. English journalist Dr. Frank Morison initially thought the resurrection was either a myth or a hoax, and he began doing research to write a book refuting it. The book became famous but for reasons other than its original intent.

Morison began by attempting to solve the case of the empty tomb. The tomb belonged to a member of the Sanhedrin Council, Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph must have been a real person. Otherwise, the Jewish leaders would have exposed the story as a fraud in their attempt to disprove the resurrection. Also, Joseph’s tomb would have been at a well-known location and easily identifiable, so any thoughts of Jesus being “lost in the graveyard” would need to be dismissed.

Morison wondered why Jesus’ enemies would have allowed the “empty tomb myth” to persist if it weren’t true. The discovery of Jesus’ body would have instantly killed the entire plot. And what is known historically of Jesus’ enemies is that in fact they did accuse Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body, an accusation clearly predicated on a shared belief that the tomb was in fact found empty.

Dr. Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, similarly stated, “If all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable … to conclude that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered … that would disprove this statement.”

The Jewish leaders were stunned. They accused the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body. But the accusation did not hold water, for the Romans had assigned a 24-hour watch at the tomb with a trained guard unit (from four to 16 soldiers). Josh McDowell notes that these were not ordinary soldiers. “When that guard unit failed in its duty – if they fell asleep, left their position, or failed in any way – there are a number of historical sources that describe the punishment. They were stripped of their own clothes and burned alive in a fire started with their own garments, or they were crucified upside down. The Roman Guard unit was committed to discipline and they feared failure in any way.” It would have been impossible for anyone to have slipped by the Roman guards and to have moved a two-ton stone. Yet the stone was moved away and the body of Jesus was missing.

If Jesus’ body was anywhere to be found, his enemies would have quickly exposed the resurrection as a fraud. Tom Anderson, former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association, summarizes the strength of this argument: “With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eye witness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? … The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection.” So, with no body of evidence, and with a known tomb clearly empty, Morison accepted the evidence as solid that Jesus’ body had somehow disappeared from the tomb.

As Morison continued his investigation, he began to examine the motives of Jesus’ followers. Maybe the supposed resurrection was actually a stolen body. But if so, how does one account for all the reported appearances of a resurrected Jesus? Historian Paul Johnson, in A History of the Jews (1988), wrote that “What mattered was not the circumstances of his death but the fact that he was widely and obstinately believed, by an expanding circle of people, to have risen again.” The tomb was indeed empty. But it wasn’t the mere absence of a body that could have galvanized Jesus’ followers (especially if they had been the ones who had stolen it). Something extraordinary must have happened, for the followers of Jesus ceased mourning, ceased hiding, and began fearlessly proclaiming that they had seen Jesus alive.

Each eyewitness account reports that Jesus suddenly appeared bodily to his followers, the women first. Morison wondered why conspirators would make women central to their plot. In the first century Jewish community, women had virtually no rights, personhood, or status. If the plot were to succeed, Morison reasoned, the conspirators would have portrayed men, not women, as the first to see Jesus alive. And yet we hear that women touched him, spoke with him, and were the first to find the empty tomb. Later, according to the eyewitness accounts, all the disciples saw Jesus on more than ten separate occasions. They wrote that he showed them his hands and feet and told them to touch him. And he reportedly ate with them and later appeared alive to more than 500 followers on one occasion.

Legal scholar John Warwick Montgomery stated, “In 56 A.D. [the Apostle Paul wrote that over 500 people had seen the risen Jesus and that most of them were still alive. (1 Corinthians 15:6ff.) It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”

Bible scholars Geisler and Turek agree. “If the Resurrection had not occurred, why would the Apostle Paul give such a list of supposed eyewitnesses? He would immediately lose all credibility with his Corinthian readers by lying so blatantly.”

Peter told a crowd in Caesarea why he and the other disciples were so convinced Jesus was alive: “We apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Israel and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by crucifying him, but God raised him to life three days later … We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:39-41). British Bible scholar Michael Green remarked, “The appearances of Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity … There can be no rational doubt that they occurred.”

As if the eyewitness reports were not enough to challenge Morison’s skepticism, he was also baffled by the disciples’ behavior. A fact of history that has stumped historians, psychologists, and skeptics alike is that these eleven former cowards were suddenly willing to suffer humiliation, torture, and death. All but one of Jesus’ disciples were slain as martyrs. Would they have done so much for a lie, knowing they had taken the body? Moreover, ignorant fishermen could hardly be expected to die for an idea, a la Socrates.

The terrorists on September 11 proved that some will die for a false cause they believe in. Yet to be a willing martyr for a known lie is insanity. As Paul Little wrote, “Men will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie.” Jesus’ disciples behaved in a manner consistent with a genuine belief that their leader was alive and they were willing to die for him. No one has adequately explained why the disciples would have been willing to die for a known lie. But even if they all conspired to lie about Jesus’ resurrection, how could they have kept the conspiracy going for decades without at least one of them selling out for money or position? Moreland wrote, “Those who lie for personal gain do not stick together very long, especially when hardship decreases the benefits.”

Chuck Colson, implicated in the Watergate scandal during President Nixon’s administration, pointed out the difficulty of several people maintaining a lie for an extended period of time: “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because twelve men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and then they proclaimed that truth for forty years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world – and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years?” Something happened that changed everything for these men and women.

Could mass hallucination be an explanation? Psychologist Gary Collins was asked about the possibility that hallucinations were behind the disciples’ radically changed behavior. Collins remarked, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature, only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people.” Hallucination is not even a remote possibility, according to psychologist Thomas J. Thorburn. “It is absolutely inconceivable that … five hundred persons, of average soundness of mind … should experience all kinds of sensuous impressions – visual, auditory, tactual – and that all these … experiences should rest entirely upon … hallucination.”

Furthermore, in the psychology of hallucinations, the person would need to be in a frame of mind where they so wished to see that person that their mind contrives it. Two major leaders of the early church, James and Paul, both state forcefully that they encountered a resurrected Jesus, neither expecting, or hoping for it. The apostle Paul, in fact, led the earliest persecutions of Christians, and his conversion remains inexplicable except for his own testimony that Jesus appeared to him, resurrected. The hallucination theory, then, appears to be another dead end.

Some unconvinced skeptics attribute the resurrection story to a legend that began with one or more persons lying or thinking they saw the resurrected Jesus. Over time, the legend would have grown and been embellished as it was passed around. The same may happen with a myth. On the surface this seems like a plausible scenario. But there are three major problems with that theory. First, legends simply don’t develop while multiple eyewitnesses are alive to refute them. An historian of ancient Rome and Greece, A. N. Sherwin-White, argued that the resurrection news spread too soon and too quickly for it to have been a legend. Second, legends develop by oral tradition and don’t come with contemporary historical documents that can be verified. Yet the Gospels were written within three decades of the resurrection. Third, the legend theory doesn’t adequately explain either the fact of the empty tomb or the historically verified conviction of the apostles that Jesus was alive.

Therefore, the legend theory doesn’t seem to hold up any better than other attempts to explain away this amazing claim. Furthermore, the resurrection account of Jesus Christ actually altered history, beginning with the Roman Empire; and empire that within three centuries would be wholly Christianized; Constantine making Christianity its official religion. How could a mere legend make such an enormous historical impact within such a short period of time?

Morison was bewildered by the fact that “a tiny insignificant movement was able to prevail over the cunning grip of the Jewish establishment, as well as the might of Rome.” Why did it win, in the face of all those odds against it? He wrote, “Within twenty years, the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish religious establishment … In less than fifty years it had begun to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire. When we have said everything that can be said … we stand confronted with the greatest mystery of all. Why did it win?” Indeed, by all rights, if there were no resurrection, Christianity should have died out at the cross when the disciples fled for their lives. But, to the contrary, the apostles went on to establish a growing Christian movement.

J. N. D. Anderson wrote, “Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence – and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication … That simply wouldn’t make sense.”

With myth, hallucination, and a flawed autopsy ruled out, with incontrovertible evidence for an empty tomb, with a substantial body of eyewitnesses to his reappearance, and with the inexplicable transformation and impact upon the world of those who claimed to have seen him, Morison became convinced that his preconceived bias against Jesus Christ’s resurrection had been wrong. He began writing a different book – entitled Who Moved the Stone? (1987)– to detail his new conclusions. Morison simply followed the trail of evidence, clue by clue, until the truth of the case seemed clear to him. His surprise was that the evidence led to a belief in the resurrection.

In his first chapter, “The Book That Refused to Be Written,” this former skeptic explained how the evidence convinced him that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual historical event. “It was as though a man set out to cross a forest by a familiar and well-beaten track and came out suddenly where he did not expect to come out.” Morison is not alone in this. Countless other skeptics have examined the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, and accepted it as the most astounding fact in all of human history. C. S. Lewis, who once had even doubted Jesus’ existence, was also persuaded by the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. He writes, “Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open.”

One of those who originally thought the resurrection was simply a myth, only to reverse his position like Morison, was one of the world’s leading legal scholars, Dr. Simon Greenleaf. Greenleaf helped to put the Harvard Law School on the map. He wrote the three-volume legal masterpiece A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, which has been called the “greatest single authority in the entire literature of legal procedure.” The U.S. judicial system today still relies on rules of evidence established by Greenleaf. While teaching law at Harvard, Professor Greenleaf stated to his class that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was simply a legend. As an atheist, he thought miracles to be impossible. Three of his law students challenged him to apply his acclaimed rules of evidence to the resurrection account. After much prodding, Greenleaf accepted his students’ challenge and began an investigation into the evidence. Focusing his brilliant legal mind on the facts of history, Greenleaf attempted to prove that the resurrection account was false.

But Greenleaf was unable to explain several dramatic changes that took place shortly after Jesus died, the most baffling being the behavior of the disciples. It wasn’t just one or two disciples who insisted Jesus had risen; it was all of them. Applying his own rules of evidence to the facts, Greenleaf arrived at his verdict. In a shocking reversal of his original position, Greenleaf accepted Jesus’ resurrection as the best explanation for the events that took place immediately after his crucifixion. To this brilliant legal scholar and former atheist, it would have been impossible for the disciples to persist with their conviction that Jesus had risen if they hadn’t actually seen the risen Christ.

In his book The Testimony of the Evangelists, Greenleaf documents the evidence that caused him to change his mind. In his conclusion he challenges those who seek the truth about the resurrection to fairly examine the evidence. Greenleaf was so persuaded by the evidence that he became a committed Christian. He believed that any unbiased person who honestly examines the evidence as in a court of law would conclude what he did – that Jesus Christ has truly risen. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ raises the question: What does the fact that Jesus defeated death have to do with my life? The answer to that question is what New Testament Christianity is all about.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Not faith, ‘but those who manipulate the faithful’ driving wedge between religions

MD Staff

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Following a string of hate-fuelled attacks on places of worship around the world, the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNOAC), said on Thursday that it was with a “heavy heart” that he was opening the annual UN-backed forum in Baku, Azerbaijan, on the role of cultural dialogue in building human solidarity and countering violence.

Miguel Angel Moratinos said the theme of the 5th World Forum for Intercultural Dialogue, Building Dialogue into action against discrimination, inequality & violent extremism, was very timely as those gathered at the Forum, which wraps up tomorrow, would no doubt reflect on the “horrific terrorist attacks” that had taken place over recent days and months.

“I stand before you today with a heavy heart”, he lamented, explaining that just yesterday he had been in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had paid his respects to the victims of terrorist attacks on Catholic Churches and hotels that left over 250 people dead on Easter Sunday.  

Citing a “spate of hate crimes and terrorist attacks” targeting places of worship, Mr. Moratinos said this was a stark reminder that that “no religion, country or ethnicity is spared” from such unspeakable violence.

He recalled that last Saturday, a synagogue in California was attacked while Jewish worshipers were observing the final day of Passover, and that last year there had been a deadly shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburg. These incidents came amidst similar violence, including an attack on a cathedral in the Philippines, as well as the massacre last month of Muslims worshiping inside mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“In all these heinous and cowardly attacks… we see a common pattern: hatred of the ‘other’, he said. “These criminals are hijacking entire faith communities, pitting religions against each other.”

Yet the problem is never the faith, Mr. Moratinos affirmed, it is “those who manipulate the faithful and turn them against each other by their perverted interpretations of holy texts.”

Social media only adds ‘fuel to the raging fire’

“The volatile nexus between protracted conflicts, terrorism, and violent extremism remains an ongoing challenge for the international community”, he stated, saying that violent extremists seek to “divide and sow instability in our societies”.

According to Mr. Moratinos, social media platforms only add “fuel to the raging fire”, along with the dark web, which offers a space for radicals, white-supremist and ultra-right advocates to “spew their twisted ideologies”.

He maintained that preventing violent extremism and ensuring sustainable peace are complimentary and mutually reinforcing goals.

“The importance of dialogue as an essential tool for conflict prevention and prevent violent extremism cannot be overstated,” he stressed.

The problem is never the faith. It is those who manipulate the faithful and turn them against each other by their perverted interpretations of holy texts – UNAOC High Representative Miguel Moratinos

Mr. Moratinos also highlighted the role of youth in providing a counter-narrative for violent extremism through their community engagement promoting inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue and countering hate speech through positive use of social media.

“After all, these young people are our hope not only for the future but also for our present”, he said. “Their work responds to the recommendations outlined in the recent progress study on ‘youth, peace and security’ mandated by the UN Security Council pursuant to resolution 2250, and the Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism”.

‘No room’ for exclusion

In her opening remarks, Nada Al-Nashif, Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), stressed the importance of promoting intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding.

Noting that the Baku Process was launched by Azerbaijan over 10 years ago to establish an effective and efficient dialogue between cultures and civilizations, she said that while “we have come a long way”, there is a need to focus and follow up with concrete actions to create continuity and impact.

She pointed to new emerging forces of division that are spreading hatred, intolerance and ignorance.

At a time when cultural diversity is under threat from the pressures of exclusive populism, she noted that “the world is facing the largest refugee and displacement crisis of recent history”.

“New technologies with the potential to better connect individuals and communities, are being misused to seed division and misunderstanding”, she said.

Ms. Al-Nashif stressed the urgent need to bolster inclusion and cohesion in societies undergoing “deep, sometimes unpredictable transformations”, adding that they are also important to catalyze the necessary innovation to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Challenges today are complex and pay no respect to borders,” she underscored. “There is no room for unilateralism or exclusion.”

The goal must be “to embrace change on the basis of human rights and mutual respect, to shape it in positive directions, to craft a future that is more just, inclusive and sustainable for every women and man,” she said.

Because “dialogue is key”, she said that is why it “stands at the heart of UNESCO’s mission to build the defenses of peace in the minds of women and men”.

Ms. Al-Nashif said that UNESCO tirelessly protects education as a human right, calling it “the most effective way to disarm processes that can lead to violent extremism, by undermining prejudice, by fighting ignorance and indifference”.

“Diversity is our key resource for achieving inclusive and sustainable societies,” she asserted.

Ms. Al-Nashif concluded by urging everyone to continue working together to promote dialogue “to understand our differences, reinforce our common values, and cooperate together for our common good”.

Baku ‘positive platform’ process

Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, spoke in depth about the Baku Process, which he credited with focusing international attention on intercultural dialogue, calling it a “good and positive platform to make the right decision”.

Saying that the Baku process is “one of the most important” between Europe and the rest of the world, he underscored: “We need dialogue on cultural, inter-religious, political, economic and security issues.” 

Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, Organization of Islamic Cooperation Secretary General, lamented that today the world is witnessing all kinds of discrimination.

“Terrorism has no religion, race or nationality”, he asserted, calling dialogue between cultures “an absolute necessity”.

Speaking on behalf of the Council of Europe, Deputy Secretary General Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni argued that inclusive societies, with equal rights and dignity for all, require understanding.

“Promotion of intercultural dialogue is not an event, it is a never-ending challenge” that requires education to ease anxiousness and dispel ignorance, she said. And that by coming together, with mutual assurances, governments pave the way for social inclusion based on political will.

The final speaker at the opening ceremnony, Abdulazia Othman Altwaijri, Director General of Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, spoke passionately on the need for political will to make intercultural dialogue a success.

“We cannot fight the rise of extremism without political will,” he said, castigating the world’s decision-makers – from the global super powers to the UN Security Council – for their inabilities to deliver much-needed progress on this front.

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Ukraine’s Autocephaly: First Results and Possible Influence on Orthodox World

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Nearly three months ago, on January 6, Patriarch Bartholomew signed the Tomos of Autoceplahy for the Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Though the whole process of granting autocephaly took less than a year – Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in April 2018 – the “healing of the schism” seems to be requiring much more time as the reconciliation between former schismatics and the Orthodox Church, which used to be the only canonical one in Ukraine, can’t happen in one moment.

The Phanar is said to have implemented everything Kyiv had asked it to: the leaders of the two previously schismatic churches – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) were suddenly reinstated. The two organizations merged in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which was designed to unite the Ukrainian faithful and attract the followers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). After the Tomos of autocephaly was granted to the OCU in early January, its hierarchs and the state urged the followers of other denominations (primarily of the UOC-MP) to join the newly established church.

To date, more than 500 UOC-MP parishes have transferred to the OCU. Ukrainian media claim that the majority of them were voluntary but according to the recent report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in some cases they were initiated by state or local authorities or even representatives of extreme right-wing groups, who were not members of those religious communities. If the Orthodox Church of Ukraine wants the UOC-MP followers actively join it, its hierarchs must intervene and show that violence is not a solution.

Autocephaly was to become one of Poroshenko’s main advantages during the elections. He finally brought to the Ukrainians an independent church separate from Moscow and recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, recent polls show that he is lagging behind. The newly elected OCU Primate Epiphanius often highlights the role of Petro Poroshenko in the process of gaining autocephaly but it hardly yields any results as it makes the OCU look like a political project.

So far, the Tomos so hastily granted by Constantinople hasn’t brought the long-expected peace to the Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Believers are still divided, violence has grown and the authority of the new church leaders in Ukraine is weak.

Autocephaly affected not only Ukraine but also the Orthodox world. The Tomos, which was fiercely opposed by the Moscow Patriarchate for obvious reasons, led to an increased level of misunderstanding between the Orthodox Local Churches. Some Churches (of Antioch, Serbia and Poland) joined Moscow in criticizing Constantinople while the others still haven’t recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. There have been calls to convene a Pan-Orthodox Synaxis on the Ukrainian issue (for example by John X of Antioch) but Patriarch Bartholomew refused to hold such a council.

The Ukrainian autocephaly did influence the relations between the Local Churches, and this influence wasn’t positive.

Really disturbing is that the Ecumenical Patriarchate can no longer unite or reconcile the other Local Churches. One can remember the conflict between the Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch in 2013 when the first established an archdiocese in Qatar, the land which canonically belongs to the Patriarchate of Antioch. The Phanar that claims to bear the title ‘first among equals’ did nothing to resolve the issue, and that was one of the reasons why the most ancient Orthodox Church was absent at the Pan-Orthodox Council convened by Patriarch Bartholomew on Crete in 2016.

However, Constantinople willingly interferes in the affairs of the Local Churches if it’s beneficial for it. Along with the Ukrainian issue, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is focused on France, in particular on the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe (AROCWE). On November 27, 2018, the Holy Synod of the EP suddenly and unilaterally dissolved the Archdiocese declaring that all its parishes and properties must be transferred to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Extraordinary General Assembly held on February 23, 2019, refused to dissolve the Archdiocese. Later, it will be decided whether to come under the jurisdiction of another Church – the Moscow Patriarchate, Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia or Romanian Orthodox Church.

It is still unclear why all of a sudden Constantinople decided to revoke the Tomos of 1999 granted to the AROCWE. It is rumored that this was masterminded by Metropolitan Emmanuel (Adamakis) of France who decided to acquire the Archdiocese’s parishes. Of course, such an act doesn’t boost Constantinople’s popularity among the AROCWE parishioners.

Another act unilaterally revoked by the Phanar was the 1686 ruling that placed Ukraine under the Patriarchate of Moscow. This was a decision that led to the escalation of the conflict between Moscow and Constantinople. These two incidents are serious reasons for concern. What if it decides to declare the ‘New Lands’ in Greece its own territory, for example? An Orthodox war between the Church of Greece and the Phanar?

The Ecumenical Patriarchate has shown how easily it can influence the fates of Orthodox Churches by revoking or interpreting documents it had once issued. On the other hand, it’s not that capable of resolving conflicts even in its own dioceses (see the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America whose Primate Archbishop Demetrios faces strong criticism amid numerous calls of Bartholomew to leave). The gap between Local Churches is widening. And today the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not seen as the leader, the ‘first among equals’ at least, that can unite the Orthodoxy and deal with the threat of another great schism.

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Plight of Christians in India

Amjed Jaaved

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Two Hindu teenagers in Pakistan embraced Islam. It was alleged that they were abducted and forced to change their religion. Pakistan is looking into the incident to ferret out the truth. India’s external-affairs minister trumpeted the incident into limelight.  All major newspapers published her rants. Her knee-jerk was obviously intended to please Hindutva adherents, to mint political advantage and to spur anti-Pakistan sentiments. India, itself, has a long history of forced conversions, and persecution of minorities, particularly the Christians. Let us have a bird’s-eye of the problem in India.

Roots of Christianity in India

Christianity is India’s third-most followed religion after Hinduism and Islam. According to religious tables in India’s 2011 census of population, excepting counting, errors and omissions, about 28 million Christians live in India. They constitute 2.3 percent of India’s population.   Thomas the Apostle introduced Christianity to India. He reached the Malabar Coast (Kerala) in 52 AD. And, he carried on preaching in every nook and corner of India until martyred.

Today, Christians live all across particularly in South India and the southern shore, the Konkan Coast, and Northeast India. Through sheer hard work, Indian Christians developed niches in all walks of Indian national life. They include former and current chief ministers, governors and chief election commissioners. To ruling Bharatya Janata party’s chagrin, Christians are the second most educated religious group in India after Jains. Christian women outnumber men among the various religious communities in India.

Arrival of Catholicism

Till 16th century, Roman Catholicism was unknown to India.   It was introduced by the Portuguese, Italian and Irish Jesuits who preached the gospel of Jesus Christ among the Indians. Alongside preaching, the preachers established Christian schools, hospitals, primary health-care centres through their missions. Later, British, American, German, Scottish missionaries came to preach Evangelical. The evangelist introduced English in missionary schools and translated the Holy Bible into various Indian languages (including Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and others).

Christians now form a major religious group in three states of India:  Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland with plural majority in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.  Significant Christian population lives in Coastal Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Kanara (South India).

Threat

Disgusted with religio-economic extremism, more and more people, including dalits (down-trodden) are converting to Christianity, a class-less community. Dalits are not allowed to enter even high-caste Hindu temples. Some dalits were even killed at doorsteps of temples for daring tread foot-steps to temples. According to religious tables in India’s Census Report, 24 million Christians constitute 2.3 percent of India’s total population of 1,028 million. The Christian population includes 14 million Christian dalits. Dalits are Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist members of “untouchable” castes who convert to Christianity. The untouchable Christians are the most neglected community in India.

Despite India’s Supreme Court’s decision, Sabrimala Temple remained out of bound for even high-caste adult women. The fanatic Hindus fear lest Christianity, with its egalitarian and social- service message, should engulf Hinduism.

 Beginning of Christians’ persecution

India’s present prime minister Narendra Modi, when chief minister of Gujarat state, and LK Advani could be called pioneers of anti-Christian movement. They distributed Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto, which, inter alia, spoke of enacting an anti-conversion law in states including Gujarat. The laws against conversion are meant to persecute Christian and Muslim minorities.

The BJP’s manifesto was outcome of decades of hatred, stoked up by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) elements acting with legal impunity and state governments’ connivance. The anti-Muslim hatred created a gory situation first in Gujarat and then in Orissa. The BJP accentuated its propaganda to create an incendiary situation against the aforementioned minorities in different states during elections.

The BJP acted hands in gloves with Sangh Parivar a collection of Hindu nationalist organisations co-operating towards making India a Hindu State to weave religion and politics strategically together in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enabling the Sangh to exploit religion for political gain.

Majoritarian justification

The ostensible justification for such laws is that, in a democracy, the majority has the right to benefit from the principle of ‘majority rule. So, Hindustan (India) is primarily for the Hindus only.

Legal rigmarole

The anti-conversion campaign aimed at restricting the right to propagate religion, which is guaranteed by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. The aim of the two parties was to convert India into a Hindu state. India claims to be a secular country. But, unfortunately, the country’s legislative history, relating to the issue of conversion underscores the reality that the government always harbored grudge against conversion. Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan. Arunachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu passed Freedom of Religion Acts. A common feature of these anti-conversion law is that they made so-called ‘forced conversion’ a cognisable offence under sections 295 A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code.

Cognisability of the offence licensed police to harass missionaries and converts under influence of Hindu fanatics or Government functionaries. Some Indian courts intervened to stop persecution of nouveau converts or Christian preachers. For instance, Chief Justice A.N. Ray in Reverend Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1977 SC 908), and Yulitha v. State of Orissa and others, ruled that propagation is different from conversion. Ray observed adoption of a new religion is freedom of conscience, while conversion would impinge on ‘freedom of choice’ granted to all citizens alike. But the state governments remained nonchalant to the courts’ observations. The courts’ decisions being declaratory (certiorari), not mandatory (mandamus), remained un-implemented. Interestingly, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (February 1981) advised the State Governments and Union Territories to enact laws to regulate change of religion on the lines of the existing Acts in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh (The Statesman, Delhi, November 16, 1982).

There are iron-clad guarantees in the Constitution for religious freedom. Yet, not only the born Christians but also Hindus who become Christians complain of persecution. It is not only Orissa, but also several other Indian states that have passed anti-conversion bills forbidding Hindus to convert to other religions. Such legislation violates the UN Charter of Human Rights which gives a person right to change his or her religion.

Harassment and social boycott

To discourage dalits from converting to Christianity, not only the Centre but also the Indian states have deprived ‘dalit Christians’ of minority-status privileges. Any Hindu who converts to Christianity is socially boycotted and tortured in different ways. Six women at Kilipala village in Jagatsinghpur district (Orissa) had their heads tonsured by influential Hindus. Their offence was abandoning Hindu faith at their own free will. Christian missionaries are harassed, deported and even killed. Indian government ordered ‘deportation of three American preachers from Church of Christ in North Carolina on the first available flight to the US.’. To add insult to their injury, the preachers were even attacked by Hindu fanatics. They had a narrow escape. Courts rarely punish people who manhandle Christian preachers. Dara Singh murdered Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons.

A few years back, Hindus attacked Christians as tit-for-tat for a book which allegedly insulted Hindu deities. Investigations revealed that the book was not written by any Christian. But, it happened to be displayed on one of the Emmanuel Mission’s book-shops for sale. The Mission is a Christian organisation that runs a chain of schools in various Indian states.

Hindus ignore the fact that Christian missionaries started coming to India, particularly the North-East, in the late 19th century. They promoted education and socio-economic developmental work in the region. In Rajasthan, the Emmanuel Mission, alone, runs over 50 schools.The bill makes religious conversion a non-bailable offence. While giving vent to their wrath against Christians,

Secret survey of Christians

Indian states sometimes conduct secret surveys of Christian population. With Narendra Modi, then as chief minister, the Gujarat government harboured xenophobic attitude not only towards Muslims but also Christians.

A survey of the Christians’ living in northern and central Gujarat, in February 1999 was withdrawn after protests.  Modi restarted the survey March 2003 and May 2003 in Christian – inhabited areas (Ahmedabad, Sanaskantha, Jabarkantha,  Kutch,  Rajkot, Patan, Vadodara, Anand and Banaskantha).

The purpose of the survey was to ‘pinpoint Christians and sort them out, if they become a headache like Muslims’. Indian Express dated June 13, 2003 (dateline Ahmedabad, June 13, 2003) reported Gujarat police has again started a survey of Christian localities.  The Christian community in Indian state of Gujarat came to know of the survey when policemen in plain clothes visited a few institutions in Kheda district of central Gujarat and made enquiries about their source of funds, origin and items of expenditure.

The Christian community was rueful at the recommencement of the survey.  To them, it negated the state’s then chief minister Narendra Modi’s assurance to visiting team of the National Commission for Minorities,  “No survey or census of Christians or other minorities would be carried out in the state”.

The policemen allegedly had a list of 42 Christian institutes, including Don Bosco School and Pushpanjali Society, in Kheda district.  The Don Bosco is a secondary school run for poor students from nearby villages, with 150 boys staying in the boarding. Puspanjali is a medical centre with boarding capacity for 60 girls studying in the school.

The Christian trustees refused to give information for fear of harm at the hands of the fanatic Hindus. The analysts point out that the survey of institutions or homes to note down addresses of people on a communal basis are usually a prelude to focused violence against minority communities. Similar surveys were conducted some year ago when Sangh Parivar stalwarts targeted Christian tribes in the Dangs area. Such surveys are akin to door-to-door survey of Jewish localities in pre-World-War-II Germany. 

In a resolution, the RSS has called upon the Hindus, particularly Swayamsevaks, to be vigilant about `anti-national and terrorist’ Christian groups, posing a threat to the country’s internal security. It urged the Government to take strong measures against said groups. They condemned Pope John Paul II’s statement criticising Indian states’ legislations banning conversions of the Hindus by missionaries.  The executive declared that such conversions were a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the country. It is significant to mention that the Pope had just said that ‘‘free exercise of the natural right to religious freedom was prohibited in India”. RSS’s resolution ignored that the right to change one’s religion was enshrined in the UNO’s Charter of Human Rights, also.

The RSS  urged the Centre to lodge a protest with the Pope for exhorting the Christian missionaries to carry on their campaign of conversions defying the law of the land. The persecution continued for five more years. On 12 October 2008, he Pope Benedict XVI was compelled to draw Indian government’s attention the continuing anti-Christian violence in India.

On 28 October, the Vatican called upon the memory of Mahatma Gandhi for an end to the religious violence in Orissa. In a written appeal addressed to Hindus, the Vatican office said Christian and Hindu leaders needed to foster a belief in non-violence among followers (“Vatican invokes Gandhi in plea to end Orissa violence“. In.reuters.com. 28 October 2008).

Christians dubbed `insurgents’

In his interview with India Today (April 4, 2005, Christian Missionaries are with Naxals, page 80-81), K. S. Sudersan (Rashtrya Swayem Sevak Sangh) says, ‘Naxals have a safe base in Andhra Pradesh because Christian missionaries are with them. They attack mandir (temples) and other Hindu institutions but never attack a Church.  Because the Chief Minister is a Christian, he has given them abhaydaan (freedom from fear)and crowds of two lakh or more they can gather’.

Sizeable number of Christians (Catholics) also lives in Pondicherry and Goa. A much smaller number live scattered amongst the majority Hindu population in the rest of India.

Trajectory of anti-Christian violence

Incidents of violence against Christians have occurred in nearly all parts of India, it has largely been confined to north, central, and western India, in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and the capital area of New Delhi.

Most incidents remain un-reported for fear of reprisal. Reported incidents date as far back as back as 1964. Human-rights body incorporate reported incidents.

The genocide of Christians in India’s north-eastern state Orissa was outcome of Hindus’ muffled hatred against Christians. Over 500 Christians, including some nuns, were burnt alive. Countless churches, houses and shops were gutted. Even Christian orphanages were not spared. India is, constitutionally, a secular country.

In 1999 a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report stated that Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (the sister organisations of the Bharatiya Janata Party) are the most accused Hindu organizations for violence against Christians in India.  The National Commission for Minorities has stated that the State governments ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies provided support to the perpetrators. In most reported cases the named perpetrators are members of the Sangh Parivar organizations. The Sangh Parivar are small subgroups that formed under the umbrella of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an umbrella organization whose roots date back to 1925. The RSS, who promote a form of Hindu nationalism called Hinduvata, oppose the spread of “foreign religions” like Islam and Christianity. According to Human Rights Watch, Sangh Parivar and local media were also involved in promoting anti-Christian propaganda in Gujarat. Mainstream ProtestantCatholic and Orthodox Christians are targeted far less frequently than Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians. There was an increase in incidents of violence against Christians after the new BJP government under Narendra Modi came to power after the general election in April–May 2014. Maximum number incidents were reported from Uttar Pradesh. According to a report by Open Doors, the  persecution of Christians in India increased sharply in the year 2016.  

Attacks on churches

In June 2000, four churches around India were bombed (Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu).  A church in Maharashtra was ransacked.  In September 2008, two churches were partly damaged in Kerala. In 2015, a church building under construction was vandalised in Haryana. St. George church in Mumbai was also attacked by masked persons. In the same month, the cathedral of Jabalpur was attacked and more than a dozen people were injured. The same cathedral had also been attacked in 2008 and the entire altar burnt down. In April 2015, St. Mary’s Church in Agra was vandalised and statues of Mother Mary and the Infant Jesus were damaged. A Church in Kachna area of Raipur was attacked by a mob during a Sunday service and five people were injured when they tried to stop the assailants.

Several churches were attacked in the capital Delhi in recent years. They include St. Sebastian’s Church (burned), St. Stephen’s college chapel May 5, 2018 (vandalised and the cross desecrated with pro-Hindutva slogans).

In Madhya Pradesh a church was destroyed and bibles were burnt in Mandla district in September 2014. In March 2015, a Bible convention was attacked in Jabalpur, with allegations that religious conversions were taking place. So on.

Christian Council protests

The All-India Christian Council’s president, Joseph D’Souza, alleged, “The State Government was been a passive spectator and often connives, by its deliberate inaction, in the violence against Christians’. According to the Council, ‘Apart from ignoring the distress calls of the community, the Central Government nurtures a hate campaign against it. There should be a halt to the calumny unleashed by the Sangh Parivar leaders”. The Council regretted that the Indian constitution was secular only in name.  In practices, the minorities’ life and prestige was at the mercy of the armed RSS gangs’ _ Four nuns and three Brothers belonging to the Missionaries of Charity were attacked by a 40-member gang chanting pro-RSS slogans at a Scheduled Caste colony in Nallalam near Kozhikode in north Kerala.

Inference

With likely BJP’s win 2019 elections, hard times await Christians and other minorities. Till a let up in Kashmiri protests, the Christians can sleep well.

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