Religion and Reformation


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:

By creating

  • 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…

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7 Responses to Religion and Reformation

  1. Raghuram Ekambaram says:


    Reading you about a matter that I already know is, for me, an awakening … in that sense, this is your best post, leaving the others to have their own judgments within their own perspectives.

    It is absolutely shocking that CBCI is going back to the Tridentine Mass, the result of Vatican succumbing to some French revanchist/fundamentalist movement (I had blogged on this at the other space earlier). How will the Jews react? In Tridentine Mass, the congregation faces the backside of the priest, a nice invitation to involve oneself in sodomy :), and now you know the source of all the Roman Catholic Church scandals of recent times!

    St. Augustine is no saint, even after his personal “reformation”. You must read what Bertrand Russell said about him and what Richard Dawkins says now.

    A religion born in sin – here I do have a problem, because even Jewish traditions have Adam and Eve being ejected, after the former had already sinfully ejaculated for that very act. Then, the concept of sin actually negates human existence. Why would a merciful God not extirpate sin, root and all, once and for all times, from the whole world? He would not do so because religion would stop existing and the death warrant to God will be issued.

    In this respect, Hindu scriptures, as I undertand them, are far more forgiving of sin. They may not be life affirming but are not life denying either.

    But, Buddhism is rooted in not reliving the past – sin or not. I believe this is about the best prescription, only if every single act is premeditatedly “sinless”. A conundrum!


    • matheikal says:

      Raghuram, your comments always delight me for various reasons. Believe it or not, at least 10 friends have asked me who Raghuram is. They wonder about a man who knows so much about so many things. (I’m not trying to flatter you. If I knew the art of flattery, I would have risen much higher in certain hierarchies!)

      All the three Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have this Adam-Eve myth. And all the three are perverted in their approaches to humanity especially because they start with the premise that human nature is evil. And God, Yaweh, or Allah becomes a necessity, as you have already said.

      I have repeatedly told my students that both Hinduism and Buddhism have much better scriptures as far as philosophical content is concerned. I have even gone to the extent of quoting the Brihadaranyaka shloka about infinity and compare it with the concept of infinity in math to show how the mathematical concept of infinity was philosophically understood by the Upanishad writer. There are so many other examples … The saddest thing I have realised is that the people who argue in the name of religions have never tried to understand their own religion.

  2. Zach says:

    I agree that the western brand of Christianity was and is still regressive, repressive and rhetorical. But that doesn’t mean the tenets of Christianity are so. I don’t know if your familiar with the Eastern or Oriental Orthodox Christianity, but I find them subtly different than the Catholic Church. Each have their own interpretation. Original Sin is a latter theological addition to Christianity. Also Adam and Eve is a creation myth shared by a geographical region. The Babylonian creation account predate the Jewish one and it can be safely be assumed to be the “original” text. I agree that Christianity has a fixation with sin. But that is a character of Semitic religions, not just Christianity. The Sanatana Dharma is quite unique and exquisite IMHO. Even though I wouldn’t attempt to compare various religious texts based on their philosophical merit, I would say that though born a Christian I very much gravitate towards the Vedic philosophies. Though I suspect it is due to their nihilistic character than anything.

    • matheikal says:

      Dear friend, I wasn’t trying to make a comparison. I rather wanted to say that I find the philosophical approach of the Upanishads more appealing to me. Yet I am not a religious believer. It’s the philosophy, rather than the religion, that I find interesting.

      • Zach says:

        Oops, my bad! I do agree with your statement that its the philosophy rather than religion that is interesting. I also feel that in the case of Budhism or Sanatana Dharma its the philosophy that led to the formation of respective religion. But somehow I don’t think that is true for Semitic religions.
        Anyway thanks for your post 🙂

  3. benny says:

    It was nice reading it. If the news paper report has made you write it it was just a spark in your passion.

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