Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Hindu argues circles around Christianity


What Every Hindu Should Know about Christianity (Wilmington, Delaware, 2014) is a book by Kalavai Venkat, pen name of a computer scientist living in Silicon Valley but originating in Kanchipuram, India. To Hindus it might be meaningful to know that he is a “Tambram”, a Tamil Brahmin. His mother tongue is Tamil, but he is also at home in Sanskrit, Hindi and English. Having worked in Israel for years, he also knows some Hebrew, which is an unusual advantage over most Indians dabbling in Biblical Studies. But his chief competence is science, and this outlook contributes more and more to our understanding of how Christianity came about and why it still persists.

An important new contribution, already familiar to Western specialists but much less to the Hindu layman, is psychology. Many Christian beliefs and practises, as well as the reflexes of the Christian apologists, are explained by such concepts as “confirmation bias”, “cognitive dissonance” and “selective attention”, the findings of evolutionary biology (which finds traces of morality even among the higher animals, independent from any divine revelation of the Ten Commandments) and the notion “meme”. These factors explain the Christian superiority feeling and anti-Hindu animus a lot better than the imperialist conspiracies or the sheer money factor to which many argumentative Hindus reduce the missionary offensive. While some American Protestant missionaries can make a career by harvesting souls in India for some years, most missionaries in the past and even today have made a lot of sacrifices for the joy of converting Pagans to the true faith. Some belief in their minds is stronger than any longing for pleasure and comforts. Sentimental people might deduce from this self-abnegation and strength of conviction that this conviction must be true. But while this belief is strong, indeed calculated to grab people by the throat and retain their loyalty to the death, it is also false.


The reality of the Bible

Kalavai Venkat bases his analysis on a thorough knowledge of the relevant literature, but first of all on a close reading of the source material, starting with the Bible. Most Hindus would already be disabused of their illusions about Christianity if they simply read the Bible, rather than the syrupy pamphlets of the missionaries. Since the 18th century, freethinkers have collected all the contradictions and absurdities in the Bible. Christian apologists tend to dismiss these sceptics as “village atheists” and pretend that there is a more sophisticated angle from which all these anomalies suddenly become logical. But this author clearly hasn’t found it, and isn’t convinced of its existence.

Thus, it is undeniable that Jesus predicted his own Second Coming in the End-Time for within the lifetime of his listeners. On this simple prediction, which in his case required nothing more than looking up this momentous date in his very own agenda, God Incarnate managed to get it wrong. Some people may call it unsportsmanlike and unreligious to bring up this obvious defect, but hey, it is there is the Gospel in cold print. Should we not believe in the Bible anymore? When so many human beings do make accurate predictions, should we not expect some reliability from God himself?

There are also elements in the Bible which modern sensibilities would find unpalatable. Thus, the Old Testament law requires a groom who finds that his bride is not a virgin anymore, to take her to her father’s doorstep and stone her to death. Similarly, a witch or a homosexual should be executed; God himself orders it. Now, Christians will tell you that this doesn’t apply anymore in the “Second Covenant”, i.e. Christianity (Judaism being the “First Covenant”), and that Jesus specifically prevented the stoning of an adulterous woman. Fine, but the author points out that Jesus explicitly professes his loyalty to the First Covenant and the totality of the Mosaic law. It is only with Saint Paul that a break with the Jewish law is effected. If Jesus prevented the stoning of a woman who by law deserved to be stoned, he was not law-observant and told a brazen-faced lie when he proclaimed his attachment to the totality of the law. Another possibility is that the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman was made up later as an illustration of the new Pauline view, which threw open the initially Jewish sect called Christianity to the Pagans. Paul did away with the law, and as an illustration of this reform, Jesus is posthumously turned into an enlightened skeptic of the law.

All this is on the assumption that Jesus and Paul existed at all. The author devotes a lot of pages to this question, which has occupied many scholars. Many motifs are just general and appear in the hagiographies of other divine or extraordinary persons. In Herod persecuting the infant Jesus and trying to kill him, Hindus will recognize a similar episode in the babe Krishna’s life. Indeed, religion-founding myths have a way of travelling. Thus, we know how Moses’ story of being found after surviving as an infant in a little boat was copied from a story about king Sargon of Akkad, nearly a thousand years older; or that Noah’s Flood story was copied from the Gilgamesh epic. The Bible is not unique, it is but an evolute of many existing stories, upon which a new theology was superimposed. But some elements in Jesus’ story point to the existence of an individual, a travelling healer who shared the apocalyptic beliefs of his environment. Elements like the delusion that he was the expected Messiah, or that he suffered the Roman punishment of execution, may well be true. So, most likely we have a historical core with a mythological overlay, adapted by the evolving Church depending on its changing political and theological interests. As for Paul, doubting his existence is much less common, but the author summarizing the scholarly arguments for both positions without really deciding. A problem here is that Biblical scholarship is still mostly practised by Christian institutes. A truly historical and scientific approach is still very minoritarian.        

The author advocates a straightforward attack on the Christian core beliefs. No diplomacy, no appeasement, no inculturation, as so many other Hindus practise and advocate. Ridiculing Hindu “idolatry” and “polytheism” in the colonial period made the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj and informally numerous anglicized Hindus make the improbable claim that they were iconoclastic monotheists. If you hear these Hindus talk about “God”, you might think you are among Evangelicals, so deep has the imitation gone. This proves that ridicule really works. Similarly, but more truthfully: if the many absurdities and contradictions in Christianity become better known, Hindus will turn away from it and even born Christians will disown the typical beliefs of Christianity.


My own role

Among the sources of inspiration he lists, the writer mentions my own book, Psychology of Prophetism: a Secular Look at the Bible (Voice of India, Delhi 1995). I wrote that book because I was exasperated at seeing what silly myths numerous Hindus tend to cherish concerning Christianity and specifically concerning the person of Jesus: he was a guru, he had been to India, his “real” teaching included reincarnation, etc.  It was by no means comprehensive and had only modest ambitions, but it seemed to me that it was urgently needed to convey to the Hindu public a glimpse of the scholarly and psychological knowledge recently built up about Christianity’s founding myth. Of course, with a mere book, distributed by a marginal publisher, I could not hope to make much of a difference. But seeing that twenty years later it has contributed to the present book, more thorough and fully accounting for the advances that science has made since, I am happy at seeing my effort amply rewarded.

At the time I had befriended the late Dr. Herman Somers, an apostate ex-Jesuit known among Jesuits as “Doctor Triplex” because he had doctorates in Theology, Classical Studies and Psychology, besides an MA in Thomist Philosophy. He drew my attention to the work that psychologists had done about the Biblical prophets and the character of Jesus over the preceding century. He himself had written two books on the subject, in Dutch (given all his other knowledge, his active command of English was, like among most continental Europeans of his generation, rather poor). This line of research had led to the insight that Jesus had been a disturbed personality. In the middle of adapted myths and man’s natural tendency to religious imaginings, his own personal delusions had partly determined the specific contents of Christianity.

At this point, I can reveal that the book was purposely incomplete. I had intended to add a chapter on a subject quite unknown to Somers, viz. Mohammed. My venerated publisher Sita Ram Goel dissuaded me from going ahead with this, as it was likely to provoke Muslim violence, which would only be contained after it had already done its damage. Years later I did publish a paper on the psychopathology of Mohammed as known through the Islamic sources (i.e. putting in parenthesis the emerging theory that he hadn’t even existed), but because of its unassuming channel of publication and its scholarly title (Wahi, the Supernatural Basis of Islam), it didn’t ruffle any feathers. Meanwhile, the internet has made similar theories about the Prophet, often by ex-Muslims, readily accessible to the Muslim public, so it can be (optimistically) hoped that this type of research may henceforth be done in all freedom.


Other topics

The book would have been sizable enough if it had limited itself to its chosen subject. However, the author has chosen to add a lengthy appendix about a seemingly unrelated topic, viz. the caste system. The reader should know something about the polemical context in India, essentially the same that diaspora Hindus in the West face.

In the British period, the Hindus had to deal with attacks from the Churches on everything Hindu, including the caste system. Initially, neither the Churches nor the colonial authorities made a problem of the separateness and inequality inherent in caste. After all, both were familiar phenomena in Western society too, with the cleavage between noblemen and commoners, Christians and Jews, freemen and slaves, colonizers and natives, or the steep and compartmentalized class system in the British motherland.  After the abolition of slavery, the anti-caste line of discourse was only one among many, typically brought up when addressing low-caste audiences. Today, it has become a monotonous but omnipresent refrain. Hindu-Christian “dialogues”, which the Christians prepare as publicity exercises and as psychological warfare, and where their naïve Hindu partners show up confused and unprepared, usually result in the embarrassment of the Hindus, who becomes hopelessly defensive when the inevitable subject of caste is raised. 

To set the record straight, the author draws upon his own personal experience, on his knowledge of the so-called law books of Hinduism, and on writings in Tamil and Sanskrit which would be inaccessible to many readers including diaspora Hindus. He confirms the obvious with the latest data from genetics: castes are biologically distinct units, identifiable subgroups of the human species. He slips, however, when he notes that these are biological groups “and therefore not human creations”. I guess he was not being careful in choosing his terminology here, for even biological groups are the result of the idiosyncrasies of human history. At any rate, the relations between the caste are a lot more nuanced as well as susceptible to change through the centuries. Thus, some untouchable castes had a glorious history and became only “impure” recently, during the Muslim or even the British period. The author demonstrates how, as per the law books they themselves composed, the Brahmins were barred from many pleasures and occupations, not quite how one would imagine a privileged caste. He also shows how the Christian meddling with the caste system objectively demeans rather than uplifts the low castes.




This book is bound to reach the targeted Hindu public in substantial measure. That is has been written by one of their own, will certainly help, though the author’s American setting influences his take on the subject of Christianity. On the other hand, it is very much the need of the hour that Indian Hindus get to know the modern critique of Christianity rather than the silly syrupy views which secular politicians and moronic Babas feed them. This book is really “what every Hindu should know about Christianity”. 




Unknown said...

Dr. Elst,

Just wanted to ask if the book is available in India?

Kalavai Venkat said...

The book would be launched in India ed-July.

pro_scribe said...

Dear Mr. Venkat / Dr. Elst,

I can't wait to lay my hands on the book. However, from the review, it appears that while the book may have a specific focus on Hindu interests vis-a-vis missionaries, the contents themselves aren't exactly unknown even to the growing lay keyboard warriors.

As you pointed out in a recent report on a Hindu conclave in the USA, Christianity comes in many shapes - medieval missionary approach in Hindu India while a more relaxed bent in Europe.

So, what I think is further needed is a continuous focus on building a further powerful argument why, for instance, is paganism / polytheism with Hinduism its most representative form superior to Christianity or Islam. This is a much needed second layer of debate in India at least.

Hope Mr. Venkat will oblige in a future work.


pro_scribe said...

Dear Mr. Venkat / Dr. Elst,

I can't wait to lay my hands on the book. However, from the review, it appears that while the book may have a specific focus on Hindu interests vis-a-vis missionaries, the contents themselves aren't exactly unknown even to the growing lay keyboard warriors.

As you pointed out in a recent report on a Hindu conclave in the USA, Christianity comes in many shapes - medieval missionary approach in Hindu India while a more relaxed bent in Europe.

So, what I think is further needed is a continuous focus on building a further powerful argument why, for instance, is paganism / polytheism with Hinduism its most representative form superior to Christianity or Islam. This is a much needed second layer of debate in India at least.

Hope Mr. Venkat will oblige in a future work.


Turbolag Panja said...

Dr. Koenraad Elst,
Sir, this may be unrelated but te web urgently needs a re-upload of your great case study "Hinduism vs. Buddhism in the West: the Belgian Case" is neither available at the bharatvani website nor on the sulekha website..It's my heartfelt request that you may re-upload it, Thank You

Turbolag Panja said...

No Sir it available again at the bharatvani website after being unavailable for a long tim..its still unavailable at sulekha..but its accessbile at the bharatvani site..thank you

ysv_rao said...

You can count me out as a fan of Kalavai Venkat who strikes me not just a bad and immature scholar but a pretty rotten human being as well.

All I need to know about this smug leftist with a Hindu veneer are in the comments section in the Centre Right piece

KV:It is perfectly legitimate to tell others how to live if they do not know how to. That is the duty of the brāhmaṇa. If we don't tell them, they will self-destruct or destroy others. Even if the whole world worships flags it is still a sign of sheep mentality.

YSV: So not only does he subscribe to a casteist arrogance that he should dictate how people live because he is Brahmin but ridicules notions such as nationalism as "flag waving"

KV:Not just me you too can guide America & the world by articulating the case for dharma & by helping to eradicate Christianity, Islam, socialism, libertarianism, free market, democracy and similar memetic viruses.

YSV: Free market,libertarianism and democracy are "memetic viruses" which should be eradicated as per our supreme Brahmin. How dare the rest of Shudras have a counter opinion! Which brings us to...

KV:As I argue in my article, if someone contracts the virulent Christian meme, he passes it on to his unsuspecting children. In such cases he cannot be granted the right of self-ownership.

YSV: In other words, in the ideal world of this totalitarian Venkat the government should intervene and confiscate the children and punish the parents should they dare to impart their Christian beliefs...Im sorry... Christian virus! on them
If this does not expose Mr Venkat as a bigoted and coarse individual then nothing will

KV:Both leftists & libertarians are very alike in that they worship the whites and attempt to portray Hindu society in ways that would appeal to the whites.

YSV: In other words , anyone who disagrees with you is a worshipper of whites and an uncle Tom/coconut.
Let us leave us aside your hypocrisy that you live in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the world of the most powerful nation in the world whose citizens subscribe to the "viral" Christian faith and are overwhemingly those white devils!
And you show no intention of leaving and your justification is that America is another "techtonic plate" . One wonders why you wouldnt want to end up on a techtonic plate with the Chritian fundamentalist Uganda on top! Is it because you are a coward and dont wish to get your head cut off and nailed to your front door? Though if a machete and Bible wielding gentleman were to carry out this mission ,in this case he has my support.
You contribute absolutely zero to Hindu civilization, indeed to Western civilization and humanity in general you are in the debit column.

I dont care what KV considers himself. In his bashing of America, Founding Fathers, Christianity,gun rights,capitalism, free markets and his utter ignorance of libertarian-ism and basic Middle Eastern and Western history coupled with kid glove handling of Islam and Christianity and promotion of perversions such as gay rights is symptomatic of a typical leftist

He is not fooling anyone when he claims to be something else.

That Koenraad Elst supports such a revolting individual is really puzzling to me. I admire Dr Elst but he occasioanally makes errors in judgement such as this.
Dr Elst,author of Psychology of Prophetism, recommending this charlatan Kalavai Venkat for a work on comparative theology is like a Michelin 3 Star chef giving a thumbs up to a restauranter who runs a health hazard establishment whose food makes customers gag and give them diarrhea

ysv_rao said...

rmcoupled with kid glove handling of Islam and Christianity"

oops I meant Islam and Judaism, not Christianity of course!

Gururaj B N said...

Dr.Issac Asimov, the Science Fiction writer has written a book "A Layman's Guide to Bible", which is purely a historical guide to Biblican study. Dr.Asimov makes no pretence about being either a history or biblical scholar. But, this book, which explains every book and chapter of bible can be an eye opener to the woolly headed Hindus, especially the Ramakrishnites, who speak of Jesus as Yogi or Hindu Guru. I look forward to reading Kalavai Venkast's book.

Shravan Tanjore said...

Free market is certainly better than centralised planning kind of structures but that said there is certainly an element of racism in the works of some libertarians, it has nothing to do with economics but their own obsessions.

Also embracing anything that gets peddled in the name of Free Market is not exactly Free.

Shravan Tanjore said...

Dr Elst please write something on Jainism, is it a reactionary movement, its origins etc?. The source of its stories etc?.

Karthikrajan said...

I had also advocated this view in the comments of one of your articles that hindhus have to bluntly tell churchians on their faces that churchianity is a criminal religion , their prophet is a semicrack and the bible contains his blabbing rather than anything rational. To prove this point your articles come in very handy.
I have had nasty fights with my Churchian friends and stranger Muslims on yahoo group and facebook. When i refer your articles to them, either they fall silent or indulge in abuse. One Churchian batchmate said that Elst and Co. finds the bible comical because hindhuism itself consists of comedies. I specifically quoted the adam and eve story from the ‘genesis’ book sentence by sentence poking fun at every step. The guy went silent and in the next episode got hot-headed and began to abuse. Yes, ridicule does help, especially from a peer. In tamilnadu we have coined a nice term for these conversionists : ‘aadu kalavaani’ (ஆடு களவாணி , sheep lifters !) The latest joke doing the rounds in facebook is that the great ONLY and lonely abrahamic god created humans through m*st**bation. This is sure to ruffle more feathers !
I had an ‘encounter’ over email with this Dominic Emmanuel guy after i lambasted his articles in the deccan chronicle newspaper. When questioned about the dogmatic claim that yesoos is the only character who can provide salvation, there was simply no answer from his side. It is quite easy to knock the stuffing out of churchians and islamists if only we bother the read the books, but most internet hindhus don’t do so. They behave like morons , ready to launch a diatribe against Muslims and churchians rather than on the ideology.
Good to see a TamBram taking on the abrahamics. With christhava braahmana seva samithi targeting braahamans in Chennai, and that jerk chaaru haasan (kamala haasan’s big bro) composing jesus sahasranaama, venkat’s book should be a potent weapon. Looking forward to it.