The Catholic church knows how to be fundamentalist without appearing to be so. The latest evidence of it is the episode regarding T J Joseph, Malayalam professor in a Catholic college in Kerala.
Prof Joseph had set a question for an examination which allegedly insulted Islam. What Prof Joseph did was to replace the word ‘lunatic’ with the name of Muhammad in a literary passage that presents a dialogue between a lunatic and God. It was undoubtedly an act of unwarranted mischief on the professor’s part. Though he now tries to justify it with the explanation that Muhammad is just another name and it does not refer to the Prophet, the explanation won’t hold water with most Muslims. `
Prof Joseph’s act was unwarranted. He paid for it heavily too. The Muslim fundamentalists in Kerala meted out a medieval punishment to him: they chopped off his palm. They also inflicted serious injuries on the other palm as well as his leg.
The church authorities that run the college have now dismissed the professor from job.
It is impossible for any rational person to acknowledge the fundamentalists’ punishment as right. It’s not merely a question of taking the law into one’s hands. It’s far deeper than that. It’s about why believers cannot have some sense of humour. Is their faith so superficial or barren as to be conked out by a question set by a mischief-maker?
If one’s faith in a god is deep, will it be affected by anything that others say about that god? If the faith is shaken, it means it is not deep enough. It means that the individual has not understood his god and that god’s religion.
Fundamentalists are people who never understand their god and religion. Deep understanding of god and religion leads one to compassion and also a healthy sense of humour, never to hatred and such ill feelings. I have often wondered why most people’s gods are such cheerless, humourless entities.
The Catholic Church in Kerala also shows its fundamentalist fangs occasionally. The dismissal of the professor is an example. The church authorities explained that the dismissal would be revoked if the Muslims admitted that they had no ill feelings toward the professor. This is where the Church’s venom is revealed. The church is setting up another religion as an arbiter, whereas the state’s secular judiciary should have been the arbiter.
Kerala’s Catholic church is notorious for its interference with secular politics. The bishops write what is known as pastoral letters [circulars, in layman’s terms] and get the parish priests to read them during the Sunday mass [religious ceremony]. Often these pastoral letters are used for brainwashing the laity’s political views. The bishop of the diocese to which Prof Joseph belongs also wrote one such pastoral letter last Sunday [12 Sep] justifying the professor’s dismissal. One should not forget that the same church last year had written pastoral letters supporting the two priests and a nun accused of a nun’s murder. The young nun was allegedly murdered because she was a witness to the sexual encounter between the priests and the other nun. The case is yet to be concluded though the murder took place almost two decades ago. The power of the church in Kerala is such that the case is likely to drag on endlessly.
Does such a church have any right to dismiss Prof Joseph?
This is not just a question of mixing religion with politics. As far as this mixing is concerned, I am a follower of Gandhi who was of the opinion that the two should indeed be mixed. What is religion if it does not touch every domain of your life including politics? That is Gandhi’s argument and I find it absolutely valid. What is the meaning and use of religion if it does not touch everything that the believer does? Religion is not to be confined to the Sunday church, or the weekly temple, or the Friday mosque, or the Saturday synagogue, or the annual pilgrimage… Religion should be the ocean in which the faithful fish swim blissfully. [That is quite different from making a cocktail mix out of religion and politics.]
It is because people are separating religion from day-to-day life that fundamentalisms are born.
My earlier article on the professor episode: We need salvation from certain kind of Religion