Documenting Blasphemy and Unreason
by B S Harishankar on 29 Jun 2018 7 Comments

Hypatia (370-415 AD) was a Hellenist, Neo-Platonist philosopher, astronomer and mathematician who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. She entered into a tough intellectual battle with Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria. In March 415, she was dragged into a nearby church known as the “Caesareum” where she was stripped naked and murdered.


Michael Servetus (1511-1553) made important contributions in medicine and anatomy. He was pronounced a heretic by Protestant and Catholic Churches, because he denied the Trinity. He was burned at the stake in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1528, Patrick Hamilton was burned at St Andrews for holding heretical opinions. Anne Askew, an English poet and Protestant, who was condemned as a heretic is the only woman on record known to have been both tortured in the Tower of London and burnt at the stake.


In 1592, Henry Barrow and John Greenwood, who preached congregationalism, were hanged at Tyburn for “obstinately refusing to come to church”. The real crime seems to have been to advocate the separation of Church and State.


Michael Sattler left the Roman Catholic Church to head the Anabaptist movement. Anabaptists are Christians who believe in delaying baptism until the candidate confesses his or her faith in Christ as opposed to being baptized as an infant. Sattler had his tongue cut out, was mutilated by red-hot pincers, and burned alive in 1527.


In 1600, Giordano Bruno was kept in prison for eight years and then taken out to a blazing market place in Rome and roasted to death by fire.


Inquisition was a religious court established during the Middle Ages in Europe, either by bishops or by the Pope to suppress heresies which threatened the Roman Catholic faith. These are just some classic examples. There was a clash between science and Christianity in Europe. Rationalism and Christianity were opposed to each other. In Christianity there was one God, one holy text and church. Science which questioned the faith was condemned as anti-God and destroyed.


The Index Librorum Prohibitorum was a list of books banned for lay Roman Catholic readership. There are 3,000-plus authors and 5,000-plus individual titles cumulatively compiled and published in 2002 by Renaissance and Catholic censorship scholar J.M. de Bujanda. Some notable authors on the index include novelist Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary), historian Edward Gibbon (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), political intriguer and legendary lothario Casanova (his memoirs), and revolutionary astronomer Galileo (Dialogue on the Great World Systems was banned in 1634 and removed from the Index only in 1822).


The history of Papal bigotry towards science and epistemology discussed by formidable scholars such as Bertrand Russell and Edward Gibbon has been quoted above since there are contemporary attempts to interpret India as a nation opposed to knowledge and reason. It is alleged that India’s past is now being constructed with fantasy and mythology. The recent issue of Frontline (June 23-July 6, 2018, Vol. 35, No. 13) has a cover story featuring India’s minority situation. It portrays India as passing through an ‘Age of Unreason”. Left historians K.M. Shrimali, Rizwan Qaiser, and Ali Nadeem Rezavi raise serious charges that rationalism and reasoning have been wiped out in contemporary India by Hindutva ideology. The remarks made by some individuals at public functions are interpreted as academic remarks by left historians. These scholars were virtually silent and unseen when blasphemy and death threats were proclaimed in India by the Catholic Church and its outfits against an acclaimed rationalist who also headed the Indian Rationalists Association.


In 2012, Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association was targeted by the Catholic Church after he tried to debunk the mysterious dripping statue at a Vile Parle church in Mumbai. Members of a group called the Association of Concerned Catholics challenged Edamaruku, and an encounter began between Edamaruku and Bishop Agnelo of the Archdiocese of Bombay. Soon after the incident, a first information report (FIR) was filed by the Association of Concerned Catholics against Edamaruku under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Catholic-Christian Secular Forum accused Edamaruku of blasphemy and the Archbishop of Mumbai asked him to apologise in exchange for dropping the charges. Edamaruku received death threats. He left India and lives currently in exile in Finland.


The animosity of the Catholic Church towards Edamaruku has a long history. Edamaruku has been a critic of Mother Teresa, her sainthood, and the ‘miracle’ cure of Monica Besra. The church’s evidence is based on a written testimony in English by Besra, an illiterate woman claiming a cure by a meditation by nuns. Edamaruku attributed her cure to the treatment she received in a government hospital in Balurghat and the North Bengal Medical College and hospital. After investigating her medical record, the former health minister of West Bengal, Partho De, vindicated her recovery as a result of medical care.


In 2006, predominantly Christian Nagaland banned the sale of the novel and screening of the film Da Vinci Code, which was followed by other states. There was no hue and cry by leftists and their fellow travellers on this suppression of the freedom of expression.


In November 2016, suburban Mumbai’s Goregaon Social pub became the object of ire for Mumbai Catholics. They accused that its interiors are designed to look like a church. The Watchdog Foundation – an organisation claiming to represent Christian interests – and the Catholic Secular Forum filed a police complaint against the owner of Goregaon Social, demanding his arrest. The Archdiocese of Bombay released an official condemnation of the “blasphemous” decoration of the pub.


The Aligarh, Jamia Millia, JNU trio did not dissent and protest the bigotry and fanaticism of the Catholic Church in all such instances. None issued even a press statement condemning the utter zealotry and fundamentalism of the Catholic Church and its outfits in an era of rationalism. Their self-styled artists, writers, comrades, teaching community and student organizations were not seen in streets and campuses condemning dogma and chauvinism.


In the Frontline issue, Left historian K.M. Shrimali charges that mythology is being taught as history by Hindutva forces. It is now well known how a Rs 200 crore Muziris Heritage Project was launched in Kerala in 2006, jointly by the left government and various church denominations, to establish the historicity of Apostle Thomas at Pattanam, a constructed archaeological site. Left historians from JNU, such as Professors K.N. Panikkar and Romila Thapar, marshaled the Pattanam project under the Kerala Council for Historical Research. Cultural relics were fabricated and excavated trenches were misinterpreted. A mythical marine township going back to the first millennium BC was constructed by left historians.


Biblical historians such as Istvan Perczel, Roberta Tomber, Frederico de Romanis and Irving R Finkel were imported from Europe for this project, keeping at bay Indian universities and the Archaeological Survey of India. The Liturgical Research Centre of the Syro Malabar Church held seminars on Pattanam and Apostle Thomas in 2005 at Kochi and 2011 at Mumbai. Left historians involved in the project participated in the seminars with vigour and vindicated their claims that Apostle Thomas landed at Pattanam in a divine ship.


Eminent archaeologists and historians such as Professors Dilip K Chakbrabarti, M.G.S. Narayanan, R. Nagaswamy, A. Sundara, and T. Sathyamurthy vehemently denounced the attempts to link Pattanam with ancient Muziris and construct a story of Apostle Thomas in India. None of the left historians and rationalists questioned or condemned this most unscrupulous academic project in Indian history to transform the myth of Apostle Thomas as history.


It is a national shame that left historians and zealots who silently vindicated such bigotries and fanciful projects in the past now cry that India is currently in an age of unreason.

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