Kerala’s Christian Church in identity crisis

St. Thomas’s visit of Kerala has been refuted by the international community of historians and scholars – the reason why the Papacy too rejected it of late – notwithstanding, the Indian missionaries, especially those of Kerala were in their frantic efforts to give an academic shore up to this unsubstantial story built up on no worthy premise, but some mutually conflicting and contradictory arguments and false and fabricated evidences. But it necessitated the Church in India time and again to drag up the poor Thomas from the sepulcher of memory whenever its believers ventured out to unlawfully occupy a strip of land planting it with a cross. It also would start fabricating stories on St. Thomas’ visit to the place where, according to its argument he installed the cross. Sarcastically many such crosses which the Church claimed were of the time of Thomas later proved to be made of cement, a material of the most modern times! Besides those who know history know well the use of cross during the time of Jesus and Thomas – it was the instrument of crucifixion. True, Jesus Christ had borne it up to the Golgotha. But what was the need of Thomas bearing it all the way up to Kerala? Cross was never a holy symbol to the followers of Christ but something of horror that murdered their Isa Messiah. Had Thomas too ever after that come across that instrument of his master’s murder, he would definitely have run amok in fear.

The recent controversy regarding Kerala’s St. Thomas tradition gives cure reading. Faith is different from history, which has a scientific method of writing. Their mixing would only confuse. Quoting somebody rather than primary historical records would not suffice, perhaps the reason why Papacy, the reputed institution is no more prepared to be befooled before the international community of scholarship. That it once stood as an arch enemy of science when it lambasted the new theories of cosmology or burned alive Giordano Bruno has been pooh-poohed by the intelligentsia down the centuries is still to Papacy a matter of shame. Definitely it is no more prepared to be an object of intellectual and academic mudslinging. True, the Church in India made Christians of Kerala believe, St. Thomas visited Kerala and baptized the Brahmin community. But they have no historical records to substantiate. Since such hearsay has no say in history Kerala’s St. Thomas tradition, falling wide off truth proves to be the rendezvous of faith and fancy.

But historical evidences prove Christianity’s Indic heritage. Scrolls from the Lamasery of Leh mention Christ’s life there. Even the Book of Luke, an almost complete biography of Christ, does not answer to where was he between the ages of 13 and 29 when he was baptized by St. John. Buddhist scrolls unravel this missing link. Nicolai Notovich, a Russian scholar who visited India in 1887, has recorded Jesus’ visit to Ledakh and other eastern places in his book Life of Saint Jesus. In Hemis Lamasery at Leh Notovich found 84000 scrolls some of which contain the biography of the prophet Isa or Jesus. Isa, Notovich writes, born in Israel when reached the age of 13 disappeared secretly from his parents’ house set out towards Sind. From the Buddhist teachers Christ learnt the tenets of non-killing, meditation and unattached work, which he later taught his followers. Max Muller in his Sacred Books of the East (Vol. XI) confirms that Messiah which in Persian means the great traveler is nobody other than the Mettayya of the Buddhist literature. Isa Messiah was indeed the great messenger of Isa, which means God in Sanskrit. It is thus history that Christ’s teachings were Indian in origin though the people who presently style as his followers are ashamed to think that they through their teacher are spiritually indebted to the land of which the salt they eat. Historians opine that after crucifixion Christ returned to Bethpur or Bandipur on the banks of Jhelum in Kashmir where he met the lost children of Israel and spent his old age. During this return to India Jesus was accompanied by St. Thomas and his mother Mary who died at Muri (named after Mary) on India-Pakistan route. Mullah Nadiri in his Tareekh-e-Kashmir, Mirza Gulam Ahmad Qadiyani in his Maseeh Hindustan Mein, Andreas Faber-Kaiser in Jesus Died in Kashmir and Holger Kersten in Jesus Lived in India have dealt this at length. Jawaharlal Nehru, Zafarullah Khan, the Pakistani Judge of International Court of Justice and many others subscribed to this view. They were internationally reputed scholars and not Church historians who lacked in historical knowledge and historical method.

True, there is a St. Thomas tradition connecting Gondophernes of Taxila. But it would still be difficult to connect him with Kerala.  Because none knows St. Thomas’ itinerary to Kerala. There is no record or evidence of that. A professional missionary, he must have preferred a land route. He was unlikely to take the sea route up to Kerala along the course of which he would get none to convert.  But there is no place connecting him between Taxila and Kerala. Besides, the claim regarding his converting the Brahmins proves untenable, since this privileged group had no reason to quit Hinduism and embrace Christianity, which in AD 1st Century did not develop a philosophy to attract an intelligentsia. More over the recent statement of a Kerala Bishop that Christianity came to Kerala much before the Brahmins came. The said priest in his ignorance of Kerala’s history except the fabricated history the Chruch often floats, may not be aware that the Brahmins’ presence in Kerala is referred to in early Tamil Sangham classics penned before the Christian era. Does he mean that Christianity existed prior to the birth of Jesus Christ? St. Thomas as the Vatican Note asserts never visited Kerala.

But the question involved is different. It is, why those who uphold the St. Thomas tradition of Kerala gobble down Jesus’ visit to Kashmir and his indebtedness to Indian thoughts in developing his teachings? Why the Keralite Christians get soured at the Hindu background of Jesus whom they claim to follow? Answer is simple. They got their religion not directly from Christ but from the colonial West with Cross as its mere trademark. Christianity came to Kerala through the politics of shopkeepers. Again, why the Church in India opposes socialism whereas in Russia the Communist Government tolled the Church bells to arouse the patriotic sentiments against a German invader? Here again the answer is simple. It is capitalism Vs socialism. In Russia Christianity remained oriental and hence near to Christ. Unopposed to the Communist uplift of the downtrodden, an ideal Christ too preached, Christianity proved to be a national religion in Russia. One may recall the Russian Communist leader Gennady Zuganov’s comment when the Soviet Union fell, “Christ was the first Marxist”. One may again remember the Russian philosopher, Doestoyevski’s dream of a new Russia emerging from the synthesis of Christ’s sympathy to the poor, Marx’s principle of equality and Russian countryside piety, which of course for the time being failed, and the forecasting of Spengler, the German philosopher historian that the next thousand years of Russia will belong to Doestoyevski’s Christianity which is now becoming almost true. But Indian Christianity always went the reverse. The statement of the Chennai Arch Bishop some years ago that the Church would call off all its educational, humanitarian and charitable activities in retaliation to the then Tamil Nadu Government’s prohibition of religious conversion was typical of its attitude. Really he said what he meant – stunting of education and starving the destitute in their orphanages, all in the name of God. Charity narrows down to become a reward for conversion. Poor Jesus! Had he come to India to see what is happening here he would definitely have reversed his prayer on the Cross. He would have asked his Father in heaven ‘not to forgive them since they know what they do’. This is no religion of Christ, which he imbibed from India, but of Church that grew in the commercial Europe. The Church in India had better learn Christ first, setting him against his Indian philosophical background. Otherwise all what are being done in the name of Christ would only go against his teachings.

But what now afflicts the Church is definitely the identity crisis. The baseless sense of Brahmin superiority of one Christian section on the one hand and its floating of the Dalit wings on the other have become problematic to it when coming to the ideological side. This author has got so many Christian friends in company and most of them vaunt on their Brahmin past. But they are confused, rather perplexed at the question, why they don’t come back to the Brahminic life if they are too much proud of it. Definitely they are in identity crisis. Christian scholars like Samuel Koodal still laments on the foolishness their forefathers committed, the foolishness of their having abandoned the Upanishadic tradition to join a system devoid of spirituality. More problematic is the Church sponsoring Dalit Christians and clamouring for concessions to them. Here again the question arises – is there caste in Christianity, a system that ton-toms itself as casteless? Yes, there are churches in Kerala where the low castes are quarantined like the much disparaged ‘Pulaya church’ and ‘Paraya church’. (Pulayas and Parayas are the outcastes in Hindu society) In fact the difference is between the early 16th century low caste converts who now falsely claim themselves to be the descendants of the Brahmins whom St. Thomas converted and the modern ones whom the so called ‘Brahmin Christians’ contemptuously look down upon as outcastes. It was this identity crisis that made the leaders of Zero Malabar Church utter contradictory statements on St. Thomas tradition of Kerala Christians.

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Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos of the Niranam diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Church said, St Thomas hadn’t visited the state and did not convert upper caste Hindus to Christianity. Syro Malabar Church official spokesperson and senior priest belonging to Enakulam-Angamali diocese Fr Paul Thelekatt too agreed with the Niranam bishop: “There is no valid evidence to prove the visit of St Thomas to Kerala. It is believed that he visited Kerala in the first century and converted Brahmins to Christianity. But the migration of Brahmins to Kerala began only in the 7th century, indicating that such claims were false”. “Even the Pope has made it clear that St Thomas had not visited Kerala. But a certain section among Kerala Christians have been nursing a certain caste bias claiming to be descendants of upper caste Hindus who were converted to Christianity,” said Fr Thelakkat. Syrian Christians in Changanachery, Pala and Kanjirappally claim that they belong to upper caste Hindu families converted by St Thomas. Most of the families in these areas reportedly claim they hail from “Athi Puratana Katholika Kudumbam” (most ancient Catholic family.) Thelakkat’s remarks had triggered off a controversy within the Church. “The official stand of Syro-Malabar Church is that St Thomas had visited India. Many historians and historical documents have already proved it. However, we agree that a small section of historians may have raised their disagreement over St Thomas’s visit,” said a church statement. And Thelakkat had to gobble down what he said earlier, stating the press misquoted him!

 

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