By Valson Thampu
On 3 November 2018, a 95-year-old man, Varghese Mathew, died in God’s own country. Unfortunately for him, he died in the theatre of an intra-denominational dogfight between the Orthodox and Jacobite factions of the church. His body was denied burial for 10 days. Here’s why. The grandson of the deceased is a priest of the Jacobite faction.
The burial has to take place in the cemetery legally controlled by the Orthodox faction. How can a priest of one faction, fiercely loyal to Christ, be allowed to conduct the burial service of his grandfather in the other church, which too is fiercely loyal to Christ? Will not Jesus die of a heart attack, and the church collapse in a moral shock at this schismatic impropriety? Aren’t priests employed to fight such battles to the last drop of their blood like mercenary armies of yore? In the end, the secular state intervened and ordered them to end the indignity. | Also read: The dividing wall of hostility within the church |
Come Sunday, these very priests will put on holy vestments and preach, their voices quivering with piety, on the duty to love; and love, as Jesus taught, even one’s enemies. They will condemn to hellfire those who don’t. They will, on other occasions, preach even more earnestly on the duty to forgive, not seven times, as Jesus said, but seventy times seven; on showing the other cheek when slapped on one; on losing everything rather than dragging anyone to court, and so on. The astonishing thing is that they will do so without even a trace of unease! | Also read: Why pastors and Christian leaders fail?|
This is nothing new. It has been so from the beginning of organised religion. Max Weber, in Sociology of Religion (1920), identifies the rise of the priestly class as the greatest peril to the integrity of a religion. According to him, the priests hijack and misappropriate the three pillars of religion—scripture, doctrines and rituals—in order to establish their hegemony. What is propagated thereafter, in the name of God, has only one shaping purpose—to promote the interests of the priestly class at the expense of everything else.
“The established church,” wrote Soren Kierkegaard, “is far more dangerous to Christianity than any heresy or schism.” The reality that all should reckon, in respect of institutionalised religion, he argued, is not that some aberrations have crept in here and there. It is that established religion per se is an edifice of aberration. “Think of a hospital,” he wrote, “The patients are dying like flies. Every method is tried to make things better. It’s no use. Where does the sickness come from? It comes from the building; the whole building is full of poison. So it is with the religious sphere.”
When issues like the ‘nun-rape case’ of Franco Mulakkal fame surface, or nuns die under mysterious circumstances, or bitter denominational battles are fought in the name of God over dead bodies, or Christian educational institutions stink with corruption, or women confessants are blackmailed and raped by priests, believers assuage their anguish by assuming these are stray aberrations. No! Kierkegaard would insist.
The entire building—in the case of every religion—has become poisonous.
This is not something that Kierkegaard invented. He owed it to Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saw greed and extortion thriving in the name of God under the auspices of the Jerusalem temple. He sprang upon the clergy, as William Blake said, like ‘a tiger, burning bright in the forest of the night’. He thundered, “You have made my Father’s house a den of thieves.” The words of Kierkegaard are, in comparison, mild and genial. Believers, not priests, are to blame if they treat dens of thieves as houses of God.
Assume you are an atheist. You don’t believe in God or the soul’s immortality. You are not preached at sanctimoniously by priests on the need to love and be compassionate. You see a dog on the street dead for 10 days. There is a chance that you bury the corpse or alert civic officials to dispose it off. Your conscience has to be in a mortuary of priestly callousness to believe that denying burial to the body of a 95-year-old man is for the glory of God. Or that it will be condoned even in the underworld. Scoffers of religion will find it hard to swallow this. You have to be drugged dead with the opium of priest-peddled bigotry to be able even to contemplate it. Yet we have priests who do such dastardly things with utmost ease of conscience and expect ‘believers’ to applaud them for it. The saddest thing is that they do.
The NHRC in its order on November 12 on the Varghese Mathew case observed, “It is apparent that some people, having some vested interests, are harassing the aggrieved family, which is already in grief as they have lost an elder family member.” Imagine. Harassing a grieving family for the love of God! Now listen to Fr. Konattu, the spokesperson of the Orthodox Church: “How can we say that the entry of the grandson in cassock to the cemetery is a denial of natural justice?” Can an enemy cassock be allowed to enter the cemetery? That’s the main question.
Men and women of faith wake up! These are heartless professionals, in the same way an executioner is a professional. He slips the knot clinically over the head of the condemned by way of doing his duty. Your denominational mercenary-priests, who live lives of hypocrisy serving Mammon while pretending to serve God, are stumbling blocks between you and the freedom to be human. You have only yourselves to blame if you, all this notwithstanding, believe they are practitioners of your faith. If they still thrive by brewing these hell-broths, you are to blame; not those who ply this trade for the coins that tinkle in it.
The writer is a former principal of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. His book, On a Stormy Course, can be bought online.