The Indian Express today [Nov 25] carries a news item on its front page claiming that the Catholic Church is on a reform path. No other newspaper of today that I read or rummaged through [The Hindu, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Economic Times, The Financial Express and the Malayala Manorama] cared to mention the Church’s reformist intention, while The Indian Express has given quite much space to the news on the front page.
In the end, the news boils down to nothing. It’s all about the Church returning to the ancient Latin version of the holy Mass. The Catholic Bishops Conference of India [CBCI] has decided to introduce a new translation of the Mass in the Indian churches. The translation is more faithful to the original Latin version of the Mass. That is, the Church is going back to the defunct Latin days, not reforming the daily religious ritual called the Mass in tune with the contemporary world.
Interestingly, the Indian Express news item starts with a mention of the confession. The first paragraph says that the penitent at the confessional will now change the formulaic sentence from “I have sinned through my own fault” to “I have greatly sinned.” Some reform that is.
The focus remains on sin. Even the Mass focuses on sin and death. The Mass is a ritual based on the crucifixion of Jesus. The central part of the Mass is a symbolic reminder of Jesus’ last supper during which he compared the bread to his body and the wine to his blood, both of which (the bread and the wine) he shared with his disciples. That first Mass, the Last Supper, which Leonardo da Vinci immortalised in his painting, was a lesson in sharing and caring. But the subsequent Masses, ritualised in churches, became an attempt to romanticise the death of Jesus which was allegedly caused by people’s sins. The focus is on sin.
The focus continues to be on sin even with the reported effort of CBCI to reform the Church. The only reform seems to be that “my fault, my fault, my grievous fault” has changed into a less breast-beating “my grievous fault.” [The penitent is supposed to beat his breast with each mention of the world ‘fault’.]
Late 20th century psychology tried to change the negative approach, always reinforced by Christianity, to a positive one. The attempt came to be known as Positive Psychology. It emphasised the study of human strengths, fulfilment and optimal living in contrast to psychology’s (and the Church’s) long-standing focus on ‘what’s wrong with our world’. Positive psychology examines how we can nurture what is best within ourselves and society to create a happy and fulfilling life.
The Catholic Church always followed a negative psychology focusing on man’s sins and culpability. Ironically, Jesus was a person who downplayed the sinfulness of human nature. He was always asking people to forgive. He protected the prostitute from the masses that got ready to stone the prostitute to death in accordance with the Jewish law. “Let him who has not committed any sin be the first to cast a stone on her,” he said when the Jewish crowd had assembled to enjoy the fun of stoning a prostitute to death. Jesus understood the weaknesses of mankind. Jesus wanted to wean mankind away from that without using stones and other violent means (including flogging).
I can immediately hear the fundamentalists raising the question: Didn’t Jesus raise the whip against the money-lenders in the synagogue? Yes, he did. It was against the money-lenders in the synagogue. It was against people who had converted religion into business. It was against people who were making a business of the human spirit.
Jesus wanted to save the human spirit from the traders. The CBCI wants to put an end to the human spirit. Because the CBCI is inspired not by Jesus, but by St Augustine and Emperor Constantine. “The influence of the great genius Saint Augustine,” says Hans Kung, Catholic Theologian, “who combined the transmission of original sin with the sexual act had disastrous consequences” [Frontline, Jan 2, 2004, p.63].
The Bible starts (leaving aside the childish creation narrative) with the original sin, the sexual act between the first man and woman. The first man and woman are expelled from the Paradise because of that act. One would wonder straightaway why god created man and woman if the sexual act was meant to be evil. The whole concept of sin in the Church is as ridiculous as that.
St Augustine was a libertine until he understood the genius that he was wasting in the beds of apple-offering Eves. Having expended his lust and youth on/in many feminine mountains and valleys, he arrived in the City of God [Augustine’s celebrated literary work.]
“Anyone who wants to understand the Catholic Church has to understand Augustine,” says Hans Kung. “No figure between Paul and Luther has had a greater influence on the Catholic Church and theology than this man, who was born in present-day Algeria. Originally he was a very worldly man, an intellectual genius, a brilliant stylist and a gifted psychologist; after many wanderings and perplexities he became a passionate Catholic Christian, priest and bishop” [The Catholic Church, Phoenix Press, p.53]. This man who overcame his lust of all hues and colours later oversaw forcible conversions and inquisitions and holy wars. He who had conquered his own passions became a conqueror of other people.
This is the fate of Christianity. The West has followed this Christianity so far. The religion of conquests. America continues that tradition when England failed in that mission.
It’s a different matter that China today is trying to emulate America. It’s a different matter that Anna Hazare in India, with the support of Hindutva forces, is advocating the kind of disciplinary measures that the Catholic Church gave up centuries ago.
But it’s the same thing when it comes to the Indian Express report about the Church’s alleged reformist intentions. It’s all about flogging – a concept that India is familiar with today, thanks to Anna Hazare.
How can the Church really reform itself? Let me borrow ideas from Hans Kung, a great living Catholic theologian:
- a social world order, a society in which human beings have equal rights
- a plural world order, a reconciled diversity of cultures, traditions, opinions…
- a world order of partnership – where everybody has a say in the run of the matters, where economy does not become a matter of traders only
- a world order that furthers peace
- a world order that is friendly to nature
- an ecumenical world order – where religious faiths of all kinds are encouraged to coexist in harmony, however redundant religion may be…