TIME Cover Depicts the Disturbing Plight of Afghan Women - TIME

Aisha had her nose and ears cut off by Taliban sentence for running away from abusive in-laws

TIME Cover Depicts the Disturbing Plight of Afghan Women - TIME.

If forgiveness is not a divine virtue, then humanity is lost forever. Doesn't "to have a heart" refer to possessing virtues such as mercy, pity, sympathy, and compassion? Where ruthless and heartless legalism governs the lives of people, fear and terror are widespread and freedom disappears. But, where Justice is coupled with Mercy, there Truth becomes personal, Religion becomes personal, the world becomes personal; devoid of which, the world is the monster, Religion is the monster.

Presenting Christ as Relevant to Our People

Written for a friend, January 2009

Factually speaking, there is nothing more relevant to the life and destiny of any people than the Gospel of Jesus Christ; it delivers them from the pit of destruction and places them on the path of salvation originally charted out for them. Therefore, there is nothing more relevant than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

However, the problem of relevance revolves around the people’s lack of awareness of Christ as really relevant to them. Therefore, this concerns the problem of presentation or communication of the Gospel. The seed is not sown before the ground is prepared. The seed will only spring forth if the ground is suitable for it or relevant to it. Similarly, the seed of the Gospel can only find right ground in the hearts of those who are receptive to it. This receptivity is the condition of being able to find the Gospel relevant for the soul. Theologians refer to it as preparatio evangelica or the preparation for the Gospel. That by the way was the name of a book written by Eusebius of Caesarea who thought that the writings of the Bible were also anticipated the interpretations put forth by Plato and others. Some Indian theologians have also thought of Hinduism as containing elements that functioned as preparatio evangelica for the preaching of the Gospel. For instance, A. J. Appasamy found some anticipation of the Gospel in the Bhakti tradition and Sadhu Sundar Singh talked of Hinduism being the channel through which the living water of Christ was meant to flow. This fulfillment theory sees relevance as something being woven into the culture and customs of the people through God’s intervention in their personal history and context.

The exclusivist position, however, treats all human elements as non-divine and therefore devoid of grace; therefore, irrelevant to the Gospel. Karl Barth called all religions and natural theology as demonic. However, Don Richardson, author of Eternity in their Hearts and Peace Child has shown how missionaries in different cultures have found elements within those cultures as relevant to and opening points for the communication of the Gospel. This concept has given rise to a method called redemptive analogy that seeks to find points of similarities in other cultures that can serve as analogies for the explanation of the Gospel. To quote Richardson’s own example, and I take it from an article in Wikipedia:
Richardson studied at the Prairie Bible Institute and the Summer Institute of Linguistics. In 1962, he and his wife Carol and their seven-month-old baby went to work among the Sawi tribe of what was then Dutch New Guinea in the service of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union. The Sawi were known to be cannibalistic headhunters. Living with them in virtual isolation from the modern world involved exposure to malaria, dysentery, and hepatitis, as well as the threat of violence.

In their new home in the jungle, the Richardsons set about learning the native Sawi language which was daunting in its complexity. There are 19 tenses for every verb. Don was soon able to become proficient in the dialect after a schedule of 8-10 hour daily learning sessions.

Richardson labored to show the villagers a way that they could comprehend Jesus from the Bible, but the cultural barriers to understanding and accepting this teaching seemed impossible until an unlikely event brought the concept of the substitutionary atonement of Christ into immediate relevance for the Sawi.

Missionary historian Ruth A. Tucker writes:

As he learned the language and lived with the people, he became more aware of the gulf that separated his Christian worldview from the worldview of the Sawi: "In their eyes, Judas, not Jesus, was the hero of the Gospels, Jesus was just the dupe to be laughed at." Eventually Richardson discovered what he referred to as a Redemptive Analogy that pointed to the Incarnate Christ far more clearly than any biblical passage alone could have done. What he discovered was the Sawi concept of the Peace Child.

Three tribal villages were in constant battle at this time. The Richardsons were considering leaving the area, so to keep them there, the Sawi people in the embattled villages came together and decided that they would make peace with their hated enemies. Ceremonies commenced that saw young children being exchanged between opposing villages. One man in particular ran toward his enemy's camp and literally gave his son to his hated foe. Observing this, Richardson wrote: "if a man would actually give his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted!" From this rare picture came the analogy of God's sacrifice of his own Son. The Sawi began to understand the teaching of the incarnation of Christ in the Gospel after Richardson explained God to them in this way.

Following this event many villagers converted to Christianity, a translation of the New Testament in Sawi was published, and nearly 2,500 Sawi patients were treated by Carol. The world's largest circular building made strictly from un-milled poles was constructed in 1972 as a Christian meeting place by the Sawi.

Analogies of such relevance can be divided into two groups: general analogies that deal with things from the common man’s world (for instance, things like mustard seed, net, pearl, etc that Jesus used in His parables); the other group are contextual analogies that relate to the culture or religion of a particular people group. The peace child is one example of it. Analogies of relevance serve as bridges of communication and one cannot but believe that those bridges were placed there by God Himself. Probably, Christ’s view of the harvest being already ripe refers to this.
But one must guard against dangers as well. Such dangers are often based on misunderstandings about the nature of relevance, which I think to be chiefly four:

1. The false view that relevance is equivalent to evidence. This leads to attempts to find evidences for Christianity within the culture, religion, or religious scriptures of the particular target group. There are cases in which Christians have tried to find Christ in the Vedas; the Muslims too attempt the same; while there are also Hindus who try to prove their teachings from the Bible. This leads to confusion since it also treats other Scriptures as proofs, which is a false method; for, if they were really reliable as such then everything written in them will then need to be accepted which is impossible.

Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929)
2. The second problem is of considering relevance as an external thing only. Thus, we find some who think that a change in dress, style of worship, and other external elements can produce the impression that the message is also relevant to the culture. The anti-cultural shock can, of course, be avoided to a greater extent through all this but the only way the message can be made relevant is by making it understandable to them. Sadhu Sundar Singh talked of the Gospel as only acceptable to Indians if offered in an Indian cup. He draws the illustration of this from an incident in which he once saw a man almost dying of thirst on a railway platform, but refused to drink water when an Englishman offered it to him in a cup saying that he would only drink from an Indian cup. Sadhu himself donned the Hindu ascetic’s saffron robe and practiced a typical Indian style of preaching which was appealing to the Indian audience. But Sadhu’s methodology must not be taken for a principle. The principle is that the message should touch the nerves of relevance in the area of understanding. The external garb in which the message is given is only a part of the presentation problem that differs from context to context – it is not the whole thing or even the ultimate thing.

3. The third danger is the danger of compromise. This happens when the message of the Gospel is so much fused with the local theologies that the identity of the Gospel itself is lost. The Gospel cannot be made palatable to people in the same way that the seed cannot be made appealing to the ground. The ground must be prepared in order that the seed is productive in it. Examples of compromise are when Jesus is considered to be equivalent with the other avataras or incarnations of the Hindu gods, or of salvation as being limited to physical deliverances from debt and sicknesses alone.

4. The fourth problem is the problem of false relevance. This is, in fact, a logical fallacy when one falsely relates the Gospel to certain things that don’t relate to it at all. For instance, one’s relating Christ’s sacrifice to the sacrifice of the horse in the Ashwamegha Yajna of Hinduism , or of relating the Trinity to the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara) of Hinduism. Other false relevances relate to distortion of the Gospel through compromise with or through false appeal. For instance, inciting people to accept the Gospel in order to be emancipated from debts or business failures, or some sickness.

Those were examples of the dangers one must guard against when trying to present Christ as relevant to the people. Next, I would like to point out few principles of making Christ relevant to them:

1. The principle of respect. There is a Hindi saying according to which one must not give someone a rose to smell after cutting off his nose (or insulting him or his religion). We see Paul on Mars Hill at Athens speaking respectfully of the religiosity of the Athenians. This principle of respect avoids making comments or doing things (including how or what we eat and how we dress) that would unwantedly close the doors for evangelism.

2. The principle of honesty. Any element of falsehood in the presentation can totally discredit the message so honesty must be evident in both the deliverance of and the living out of the Gospel among the people.

3. The principle of workability. This is the exemplification of the Gospel or the real demonstration to the world that the Gospel really works in our life. People need to see the truth and not just hear it. Anyone can preach any theory; but when people really see the Gospel working in the lives of the people through the manifestation of God’s presence and power, great conviction is produced.

4. The principle of redemptive analogy which as has already been seen involves the recognition of types, practices, and other elements that can function as the explanative grid or framework in which the Gospel can be explained or presented to them.

I believe that a consideration of what has been said in this discussion will greatly help in presenting Christ as relevant to the people. I must emphasize here again that we present Christ as relevant to the people; we don’t make Him relevant to the people, as already pointed out that the ground must be prepared for the seed and not the seed made relevant to the ground. The seed is what it is and cannot be altered; similarly the Gospel also cannot be altered. It must only be presented. One doesn’t need to find out how Christ is relevant to any people group. All have sinned alike and all need the Saviour. On the other hand, one needs to search for analogies of relevance in order that the Gospel be effectively transmitted. But at the end, it is the Gospel that is lived in the life of the believer that speaks louder than the words spoken by him.

Domenic Marbaniang, 2009


Good Friday Ka Mahatva - All India Radio 2001


Biblical Qualifications of Choir (Band) Members

1. They should have the calling and anointing for worship (Acts 6:3; 1Chronicles 25). Unless they have the calling, they cannot have dedication for service.
2. They should be obedient to the Choir leader (IChronicles 25:6)
3. They must be submissive to the Church authority (IChr.25:6)
4. They must be skillful in singing or in playing different instruments (25:7)
5. They must be instructed in the songs of the Lord (not attracted by worldly music) (25:7).
6. They must be dedicated to the service of the House of the Lord (25:6). When it comes to Church ministry, availability is important and signifies dedication (1Chr.9:33).
7. They should be full of joy and enthusiasm (1Chr.15:16).
8. They should have discipline in dress, posture, and order (2Chr.5:12)
9. They can be both male and female together (Ezra 2:65)
10. They must be filled with the Spirit of God (Eph. 5:18,19).
11. They should sing with grace in heart (Col.3:16).

Pure and Undefiled Religion - Sermon (James 1:27)

Pure and Undefiled Religion

Message by Domenic Marbaniang
Itarsi Church, Sunday, August 29, 2010.

Text: James 1:27

"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."

Synopsis of Message

The usual picture that one has of a religious and pious person is of some solitary sage standing aloof from the world and steeped in deep meditation. We have had people in history who lived lives like that thinking that spirituality is something that is related to the self alone. But, James tells us that true religion is something that relates and connects to people outside, here, to visit the widows and orphans in their trouble.

Someone may say that I'm preaching a social gospel, but what does it matter if your spirituality is only limited to church going and other such religious activities. The Gospel is more than that. See why Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit:
Luke 4:18
The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed"

Act 10:38
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

Spirituality is not just a feeling of being good or feeling ecstatic; it is living a life full of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Spirituality is both the inner attitude and the external activity. Our thinking must be spiritual and our actions must be spiritual.

In the early Church, they had charity funds for elderly widows (1 Tim.5:2-9). But, it was made very clear that those in the immediate relation were primarily responsible for taking care of their own. If they didn't do that, their profession of faith was not acceptable before God.
1Tim. 5:8
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Paul says in Titus that profession devoid of action tantamounts to denial of God (Titus 1:16).

Here, in James,
Religiosity, Piety, Spirituality is:
1. Visiting orphans and widows in their distress
2. Keeping oneself unspotted from the world.

Spirituality doesn't mean following religious laws (Much blood has been spilt in the name of such religion). It doesn't mean legalistic adherence to religious prescriptions. The Pharisees were very strict followers of their religion. They wore white clothes, worshipped at the temple, gave tithes, and followed the law minutely; but, Jesus said that they were whitewashed tombs. How is our life today?

Spirituality means being perfect in love. In 1 Corinthians 3:1,3 Paul tells the Corinthians that he couldn't speak to them as to spiritual people because they were carnal and full of strife; in other words, they didn't have love. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, he says that having love is more important than having all the gifts of the Spirit, to speak in tongues, prophesy, etc. The Bible tells us that love sums up the whole law and all the prophets.

Now to James 1:27,

4 Characteristics of Pure and Undefiled Religion

1. Externality of Worship

James is about the external proofs of the inner faith. Faith without works, he says, is dead. The external action is proof of the internal condition.

Your internal integrity must have an external evidence.

You must have the inner experience first, then the external proof of it. What you experience is what you exhibit.

Psalm 51:6 - God desires integrity inside the heart.
Psa 51:12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, [EXPERIENCE)
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Psa 51:13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, [ACTION]
And sinners shall be converted to You.

Psa 51:14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, [EXPERIENCE]
The God of my salvation,
And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. [ACTION]

Psa 51:15 O Lord, open my lips, [EXPERIENCE]
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. [ACTION]

Religion flows from the inside out.

External Worship does not mean following rituals Psalm 51:16-17. God desires our broken heart more than the sacrifices
Hosea 6:6 - "I desire mercy, not sacrifice"

If you are not being merciful, compassionate, and loving with people, then all performance of religion is ignoble before God.

For some, reading Bible or going to Church becomes a religious ritual, though God wants it to flow out of a true and God-loving heart. It is not how many times you read your Bible but how many times you obey the Bible that matters. It is not how many times you go to Church but how many times you honor Christ before people that matters. It is not how much you SPEAK of Christ, but how much you ACT like Christ that matters.

External religiosity is not ritualistic or commercial charity. If you give in order to receive praise or anything back, you are being a hypocrite. Matthew 6: When you give, your left hand should not know what the right hand gave.

Pure Religion is Love in Action. Love that is unselfish, unconditional and pleasing to God.

2. Expendability of Love

Piety is never a cost-free thing.
2 Samuel 24:24. David would not sacrifice to God something that cost him nothing.

Love towards God involves a cost
Love towards fellowmen involves a cost.

James 2:15,16
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?

Don't just pray and say good words - spend, give!

But, money is a small thing. Mother Teresa used to say that the greatest need in the world is to be wanted, to be loved.

Someone said that Love is also spelt as T-I-M-E
If you give your son a lot of money always, but never give your time, would that be true love.

How much time do you give to God?
How much time do you give to people?

A laborer once approached the office of a social activist who was working for the upliftment of the backward classes. The secretary told the activist that a laborer was waiting outside for him. The activist replied "I have no time for some individual person", to which the secretary replied, "Interesting, because even God has not come to such a position".

God so loved the world that He gave...

In the Good Samaritan story, the levite and the priest had no time for the wounded man. The priest might be thinking he was getting late for the sacrifices... getting late for the Church, for the worship... this man was not important for him. But the Good Samaritan spent his oil, his wine, his bandaging cloth, took the man on his own donkey, and paid money from his own pocket for him. He spent money, he spent energy, he spent time. That is what pure and undefiled religion is all about, that is what pleases God; not, what the priest would have been doing at the temple that evening.

Visiting is not enough; caring matters.

Remember the woman with the alabaster box; she spent her all honor, money, and love on Christ. What do we do today in service to Christ?

3. Extendability of Service

Love is expendable but not spent up. It is not exhaustible.

The Greek tense indicates "Keep on visiting", "Keep on caring"

2 Questions that may be asked: "How many times?" and "Until when?"
Answer: "Keep on..."

Love is never spent up. It continues forever.

Anger is spent up, when you're done with it. Lust is spent up when you're done with it.
But, love is never spent up because it is the fruit of the Spirit. It comes from God. It is not an emotional reaction. It is the gift of God.

Peter asked: "How many times should I forgive my brother?"
Jesus answered: "Seventy times seven" that means continue doing that every time, forever.

Extendability: Go the extra mile. Remember the Good Samaritan. He followed up on the wounded man's recovery.
Jesus said, "If someone asks you to come one mile, go two miles" "If someone wants your tunic, give him your cloak as well."

Let your service flow out of God's love within. Let it be relentless and endless.

4. Exceptionality of Surrender

"Keep oneself unspotted from the world"

Absolute surrender to God. That is religion, that is spirituality.

All service must flow out of your absolute surrender to God in love.

Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters; either he'll love one or hate the other..."
You heart must be guileless
Your hands must be generous

When you are able to say that "I have nothing of my own, my all belongs to God, my money, my possessions, my everything, all surrendered to God for His use at His will", when you're able to say that then you will know true spirituality, you will know the Kingdom of God.

The Rich young ruler followed the Ten Commandments, but he wasn't willing to part with his possessions. He missed God's mark of perfection. Your spirituality extends into your pocket, into your wallet.
Love is demonstrative, involves a cost, goes the extra mile, and flows out of an absolute surrender to God.

When you go out of these Church doors, remember pure religion is what you practice out there. Who are your friends? Whom do you invite into your house? How do you treat your family, your kids, your parents, your in-laws, your friends, your servants, your boss, your customers, your students, your teachers....." Religion is there outside these four walls.

Go out and make a difference!

© Domenic Marbaniang, August 2010

Faith is Final Evidence (Hebrews 11:1)

The Faith, sculpted in stone from Badajoz in 1...

© Domenic Marbaniang, Explorations of Faith (2009), Chapter 1.

Hebrews 11:1 - "Faith is...the evidence of things not seen."


The second part of this statement is parallel to the first. It modifies the first clause. Thus “substance” is “evidence” in the same manner that “things hoped for” are “unseen”. A significant truth of revelation here is that faith doesn’t need further evidence for its existence than its presence itself. Since it is the final ground of the things hoped for, it is also the evidence of the things hoped for. It is not based on anything else. It is the basis for everything that we know and experience. Attempts to base faith on rational or empirical proofs, i.e. on logic or experience, adds nothing to it. These may help to justify beliefs but cannot be the source of faith. One must not search for evidence for faith. Faith itself must be seen as the evidence for everything else. In fact, it is through the eyes of faith that meaning and the meaningfulness of divine truths is discerned. One proceeds from faith to the things and not from things to faith.

The Greek word for ‘evidence’ is elegchos (ἔλεγχος), which can either mean ‘proof’ or ‘conviction’. A conviction is an unshakeable belief in something without need of proof or evidence. This talks about the finality of this kind of faith. It doesn’t need evidence. The other meaning implies that having this faith itself is the evidence that the unseen things hoped for are true. That you can have faith for the things you hope for is the surest evidence of their reality and possibility.

There are, however, certain criteria to measure the authenticity of such faith since this could easily lead to superstition and false belief. First of all, the believer must possess a sound mind. This is necessary in order for faith not to be based on illusions or delusions; one knows that there are many in the lunatic asylums that have strong faith about many things which are not true. Secondly, faith must be open to reason;[1] in other words, open to verification and falsification[2] or, at least, justification. Faith is justified belief; by this is meant that the believer must always be able to give a justification for his faith as the Scripture says “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” (1Pt. 1:15). This doesn’t mean that faith follows evidence; nor that evidence strengthens faith. On the other hand, it means that faith in itself is neither irrational nor without evidence, but is full of proofs though not based on proofs; therefore, an evangelist is never short of proofs – in fact, he might often be astounded by the proofs of his faith. Thirdly, this faith must be connected with righteousness and peace.[3] This is so because the faith of God cannot contradict the character of God. By righteousness is meant not only that this faith is internally consistent (possesses integrity), but also that it is legally consistent (conforms to the righteous Law of God). At the same time, it engenders peace (good relationship with God and removal of fear and doubt). Fourthly, and most importantly, it must not contradict the written Word of God, i.e., the Scriptures, which reveal God. By this is meant that it must not contradict the real import of Scriptures – this doesn’t apply to false interpretations of Scriptures; faith has nothing to do with them.

Now, to say that faith is the “evidence of things unseen” means that the invisible things are proven by faith. Evidence may be classified into two categories: rational evidence and empirical evidence. Rational evidence is expressible in the form of arguments or reasoning. Empirical evidence may be divided into two further groups: primary evidence and circumstantial evidence. Primary evidence is based on first-hand witness (e.g. the disciples saw the risen Lord). Circumstantial evidence is evidence not drawn from direct observation (e.g. the empty tomb). Faith is neither rational nor circumstantial evidence; it is primary evidence. In other words, faith is neither a set of arguments nor a set of data that needs interpretation and verification. On the other hand, the experience of faith itself is evidence of things unseen because it is the experience of a knowledge that is revelatory, illuminating, and convicting; it is the experience of the truth of God. To have the faith of God, therefore, means to possess the truth of God. Thus, though the things hoped for are invisible to us now, they are clearly known to faith.

Faith as evidence is also source of knowledge. Undeniably, faith is a voluntary act or else personal responsibility and even truth would be mythical. For if man doesn’t know by exercise of his will then his knowledge is determined; but if determined then there is no possibility of verifying that knowledge to know whether it is true or false. Man would only know and believe what he is programmed to believe. But faith as voluntary act is the precursor to knowledge as Jesus said, “If any man desires to do His will (God's pleasure), he will know (have the needed illumination to recognize, and can tell for himself) whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking from Myself and of My own accord and on My own authority” (Jn. 7:17, Amplified). Thus, the will-to-believe is the condition for the knowledge of truth. If anyone is unwilling to accept the truth, then all evidence is meaningless (perhaps detestable) to him. Therefore, faith as evidence (Sanskrit, pramana meaning also source of knowledge) is also source of knowledge.

One question that may arise in this connection regards the source of faith. Obviously, the source cannot be either reason or experience. For that would mean that faith is based on them and is not itself the final evidence. Further, any amount of reasoning cannot produce the absolute assurance that faith possesses. Thus, reason cannot be the basis of faith. In fact, as the French mathematician Blaisé Pascal argued, to say that one believes on the basis of reason is to beg the question. For, one needs to first believe in reason itself before believing in its results. That is to say, reason itself is originally based on faith. Reason cannot be based on reason for that would evidently beg the question. The same also extends to experience. One can doubt the reality of everything about experience, as the French philosopher René Descartes showed.[4] Consequently, faith itself cannot be based on experience. One chooses to believe in experience; one doesn’t have faith out of experience in the ultimate sense. Thus, experience can only be the source of knowledge when it is based on faith. Faith can only be final when it is not ultimately based on reason and experience. All knowledge of this world, therefore, deriving from reason and experience is not final. There is always some element of doubt that is admissible. But the faith of God, as has already been seen, is fully assured and final. In fact, this faith of God is that which stabilizes knowledge by giving meaning to both reason and experience. That is the reason why, disbelief in God, in its final form, leads to a sense of absurdity, hopelessness, skepticism, cynicism, and nihilism.

The source of faith then can be neither reason nor experience. What then is the source of faith? It is an encounter with the revelation of God as the Scripture says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). This doesn’t mean that one has faith as soon as one hears God’s voice; but, one exercises faith only when face to face with the revelation of God. In fact, one may choose to even reject the revelation. Faith is a choice, it is not automatically produced. When one encounters the revelation of God one has the choice of accepting it or rejecting it. The nature of both the encounter and choice is spiritual and not rational or physical. Therefore, the choice is also a moral one. Further, the truth revealed is spiritual and so physical events (e.g. miracles etc) cannot be regarded as final proof of it. The truth itself is its proof and is known only by someone who responds in faith. The one who rejects it remains unprofited by the encounter (cf. Heb. 4:2). The one who accepts it, however, is immediately ushered into the reality of God and, thus this faith becomes the substance and evidence of the unseen things one hopes for. As long as reason and experience are held on to, uncertainty and temporality holds the scepter; but faith unchains one from the infinite sequence of evidence and takes one beyond uncertainty to the substance, the ground, the confidence, and the evidence of the things of God.

The value of this faith is not measurable by human standards: it is only measured by God. The possession of this solid faith of God earned the elders a good report and testimony (Heb. 11:2). This was so because they possessed the thing they hoped for in the form of faith even though the fulfillment was scheduled only at the last day. They were undaunted by the present circumstances but were faithful to the end because of the assurance they had in God. Their faith was their evidence of the things still invisible to us, and by it they obtained a good testimony, God Himself testifying about their faithfulness. Their choice took them beyond uncertainty to obtain a good testimony from the Father.

In view of what we have seen this far, it is obvious that the source of all frustration, fear, anxiety, boredom, vexation, emptiness, loneliness, and hopelessness is either the weakening of or the loss of faith. Of course, the world presents us with the crisis of faith: reasons for not believing in God. But the world has no substitute for the faith of God. To trust in the world or in man is to sink with the ship. Soon the loss of faith gives way to conscious or unconscious escapism. The means of escapism are not few and the worldliest are the most evil ones as well, hurting self and society. But they are also false ones along with the reality of their being temporal as well. They do not and cannot give eternal solace. It is the faith of God alone that gives true meaning, purpose, and reason to life.

[1] Divine wisdom is ‘open to reason’ (Jas. 3:17, RSV).
[2] Of course, faith as assurance is confident that it cannot be falsified- truth is crystal clear to it, but this doesn’t mean that it is not open to trial.
[3] And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the service of righteousness shall be quietness and hope forever (Isa. 32:17, MKJV).
[4] Descartes proceeded on his methodology of doubt and doubted everything except the fact that he was the one who was doing the doubting. His famous conclusion “Cogito ergo sum”, “I think, therefore I am”, however, was disqualified by later philosophers and also Buddhist philosophy according to which the consciousness of a self or “I” might be just be an illusion created by the combination of several factors. Thus, everything could be doubted if experience were looked at as fundamental to knowledge.

© Domenic Marbaniang, Explorations of Faith (2009), Chapter 1.

Religious Tolerance in the Old and the New Testaments

© Domenic Marbaniang, January 10, 2008.

The Old Testament idea of religious nationalism is deeply based on God’s covenant relationship with the people of Israel. The nation of Israel is seen as existing because of God’s covenant with Abraham and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. Instances of religious intolerance find explanation in God’s relation to Israel as a husband’s to his wife. As infidelity in marriage is intolerable, so is infidelity in religion. The covenant relationship, however, required wilful commitment.

The New Testament, however, sees this in a different light. Religion is more an individual issue than a social one. The religious individual world is separated from the political world. Jesus differentiated between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God (Jn. 18: 36). The kingdom of this world is influenced by the god of this world, who is Satan (2 Cor. 4: 4). The world, therefore, is blind towards the gospel and is unable to recognize the lordship of Christ (1 Jn. 3:1). At the same time, political authority is to be understood as given by God Himself (Rom. 13:1, 2). This reiterates the revelation in Daniel that ‘the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.’ (Dan. 4: 17). There seems to be a paradox here. If God controls world politics then how does the devil bear the sceptre? The answer will be evident once the right meaning of ‘world’ is understood as sinful humanity (except in cases where it refers to the natural world). The devil rules over sinful humanity (Eph. 2:2) and wherever politics is pervaded by unjust laws or law enforcers, the sceptre of the devil is visible. However, the devil cannot supercede God in wisdom and power. Thus, the rule of devil is visible wherever falsehood and lawlessness exist. However, the rule of God as terror to evil works (Rom. 13: 3) is what makes justice possible in this world. Obviously, God’s use of rulers such as Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus against evil-infested kingdoms shows the overarching power of God over all political world. In the New Testament, the kingdom of Israel as a theocratic kingdom in this world is replaced by the more comprehensive concept of the kingdom of God. The obsession with national politics is consumed by the passion for the spiritual kingdom. The church of Christ is seen as transcending all national, ethnic, and linguistic barriers. As such, religious intolerance as a carnal and political practice is not admitted.

Further, the Bible makes it very clear that true spirituality is what God seeks (Jn. 4:23). This can only come from ones grasp of truth and wilful allegiance to it. This respects the freedom of conscience.

© Domenic Marbaniang, January 10, 2008.

The Laughing Philosopher & the Significance of Truth in Belief

© Domenic Marbaniang, December 19, 2007.

From http://hypernews.ngdc.noaa.gov

“All men by nature desire to know,” said Aristotle in his Metaphysics. Curiosity is instinctive to man. Anxiety, boredom, frustration, and bewilderment often accompany one’s failure to know what one wants to know. If there are shocks that upset the mind, then there are also shocks that excite the mind. Unexpected pleasures are as shocking as unexpected pains, though with opposite results. Therefore, when the intuition senses flashes of insight amidst the confusion and obstruction of the mind, the pleasure is sublime. That is why religion is so personal to believers while absurdity and vexation torture the skeptics.

But belief cannot be recklessly entertained, for beliefs match their consequences; and if beliefs are false, the consequences can be disastrous. However, one can’t avoid belief, since it is the ground of all knowledge. For instance, in order to reason logically one needs to first believe in reason and logic; similarly, in order to know something about the world, one must at least believe there is something out there. There are certain situations, however, where one has nothing but belief as one’s source of knowledge. For instance, anyone who travels a lot knows times when one has to simply believe others for directions and guidance to the desired destination. Yet, when it comes to beliefs about ultimate issues like the origin and destiny of the universe, God, freedom, values, etc, one cannot just quote exclusive instances as explanations for an unexamined life of belief. One needs to look at reality intently, intensely, intentionally; one must be serious. The “laughing philosopher” is a philosophical mistake unless the philosopher is either mad or “enlightened”. The laughing philosopher must suffer the toothache to stop laughing, for it is not pleasure but pain that awakens the philosopher within – Buddha stopped laughing when he saw the four scenes of suffering; Plato stopped laughing when Socrates drank the hemlock. Truth is more important to the rational human than water to the thirsty, or else David’s heroes wouldn’t have risked their lives to get their king water from the well of Bethlehem, nor would have David, seeing its value, poured it out unto God without drinking of it (2 Samuel 23: 14-17).
© Domenic Marbaniang, December 19, 2007.


The Boomerang of Belief - Problems in Religious Epistemology - An Introduction

© Domenic Marbaniang, December 19, 2007.

‘The sense of the world must lie outside the world,’ said Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951).[1] The human problem is seeking sense of the world within the world or within one’s own self. But can man go beyond himself by himself? Can someone lift himself up by pulling up his bootstraps? The epistemic predicament of man has been just that in several cases: when he started from himself or nature he returned to himself or nature, to the extent that ‘man is the measure of all things’ was reflected in all his cogitations on man, God, and the world. A glance at monism, polytheism, materialism, and pantheism[2] will demonstrate all that man can do to limit ultimate meaning to this-worldly-reality.

This has also been true of Christian theology several times. The rational entanglements of scholastic theology in attempts to rationalize revelation, and the empirical obsessions of liberal, process, existential, and charismatic theologies reflect the segregated pursuits of two different epistemic streams in order to understand divine reality. There are claims to truth in each philosophical school of theology. However, from want of any epistemic theory that could synthesize the rational and the empirical and a resolute adherence to the segregated epistemic lines, the conflict between reason and experience surfaces more often; the consequence, rationalists try to invalidate experience to maintain reason’s standing while empiricists try the same against reason.

The conflict between reason and experience, however, is not restricted to propositional theology; it affects the personal, emotional, and aesthetic dimensions of man as well. The problem with epistemically deficient theologies is not only their one-sided approach towards revelation, but also their failure to synthetically encounter revelation in pursuit of a holistic theology. One seems to find some respite from philosophical vexation in transcendental theologies such as neo-orthodoxy, which proposes encounter with revelation as the basis for theology. Though wrapped in possibilities of self-deception and blind belief, this epistemic proposal at least permits some theologizing in contrast to empirical traditions such as Zen Buddhism that are aversive to reason; consequently, to any form of theologizing.

Despite the advance of empirical science in the past two centuries and the waning of rational theologies, the power of religion has not suffered decrease. In fact, one may not be surprised to find a great percentage of the scientific community to be religious in some sort or the other. In parallel is the ever increasing spate of fideism in the field of science, to the extent that evolutionism is now regarded by many as not just a philosophical hypothesis but a powerful religion that authoritatively draws believers in the name of science. Much of this influence owes to the psychological mechanics of imitative learning: one simply believes what others believe and assert to be true. One adopts the popular world-view, the weltanschauung, by submission to the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist. This is also true of religious believers in general who hold on to their particular religious beliefs by reliance on societal authority. However, the phenomena of religious conversions reveal that believers when countered by crises are often willing to change their beliefs. Whatever be the strength of any religious conviction, there has been a marked disposition of believers in general to seek scientific or empirical recognition of faith in recent times. Especially, in a more secularly oriented world, the pursuit for secular recognition escalates seeing that isolationism will not strengthen the religious appeal for adherents. It is, however, important to understand that the empirical sciences can neither produce nor authenticate propositions of ultimate value. It is not surprising then that Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, called the knower of universals (ideas, principles, theories) wiser than the knower of particulars (things).

Experience does play an important role in the acquisition of knowledge. However, when experience is just sensual, brutish, and intensely immanent, one soon encounters the spiritual turbulences of emptiness, boredom, vexation, anxiety, and loneliness: ‘the sense of the world must lie outside the world.’ That is why Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the world could not quench her thirst; only God could do that.

But then, one may argue that spiritual experiences are also one form of experience and religious experiences have been often used as basis for faith in God. For instance, Alvin Plantinga’s theory of foundationalism categorizes belief in God as basic to the noetic structure of the believer having appositive religious experiences. However, the qualification of such experience as religious is subjective and therefore immune to empirical or objective verification or falsification; thus, unqualifying as scientific. John Wisdom’s parable of the invisible gardener is a classic illustration of this problem. It shows how an explanatory hypothesis, such as the existence of God, may initially appear to be experimental but end up as a non-empirical, unscientific hypothesis. In John Wisdom’s own words, the story is as follows:
Two people return to their long neglected garden and find among the weeds a few of the old plants surprisingly vigorous. One says to the other “It must be that a gardener has been coming and doing something about these plants.” Upon inquiry they find that no neighbour has ever seen anyone at work in their garden. The first man says to the other “He must have worked while people slept.” The other says “No, someone would have heard him and besides, anybody who cared about the plants would have kept down these weeds.” The first man says “Look at the way these are arranged. There is purpose and a feeling for beauty here. I believe that someone comes, someone invisible to mortal eyes. I believe that the more carefully we look the more we shall find confirmation of this.” They examine the garden ever so carefully and sometimes they come on new things suggesting that a gardener comes and sometimes they come on new things suggesting the contrary and even that a malicious person has been at work. Besides examining the garden carefully they also study what happens to gardens left without attention. Each learns all the other learns about this and about the garden. Consequently, when after all this, one says “I still believe a gardener comes” while the other says “I don’t,” their different words now reflect no difference as to what they have found in the garden, no difference as to what they would find in the garden if they looked further and no difference about how fast untended gardens fall into disorder. At this stage, in this context, the gardener hypothesis has ceased to be experimental….[3]

Obviously, attempts to give an objective basis to subjective religious beliefs are not always very successful. This doesn’t mean that all faith is groundless or lacks reason. It only means that the reasons are not always sought in the right place. For instance, to declare that the only proof for God’s existence would be his visible manifestation is to assume that God is spatio-temporally limited and is physical in nature. But to decide the nature of God before having the proof of his existence is to argue from existence and not towards existence. The empirical mind, however, can think of reality in terms of sense-experience alone and so demands of any claim to truth an empirical validation. It is not surprising, therefore, to see that empiricists and logical positivists call all metaphysics a nonsensical and futile enterprise, in doing which, they nullify the validity of all metaphysical claims, including the belief in a rational God.

One important question haunting psychologists of religion is why people believe in God. Another question, asked by philosophers, is whether belief in God is similar to belief in people or things. Are religious beliefs essentially same as or different from secular beliefs? Some philosophers, like Platinga, have argued for the basicality of belief in God. In other words, belief in God is seen as basic to the human noetic structure as the belief in the existence of the external world. This axiomatic status of theistic belief nullifies the need of evidences. One problem with this approach is that belief in God is always theological, belief about God as well. In the modern pluralistic world, belief in God is always belief in some kind of a God, and when such belief is questioned one either recourses to reason or to experience or to revelation; and, obviously, each of the sources of knowledge lends differing perspectives on the same enquiry.

[1] John Hick (ed.), Classical and Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, 2nd edn. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1970), p. 333
[2] Atheism can’t exist alone since it is a negative philosophy; it must find a positive counterpart as in materialism, monism, or pantheism. Alone by itself it encounters nihilism and self-destruction; for when a man turns his back on God, he must turn to something else, or … to an infinite, unlivable void.
[3] John Hick (ed.), Classical and Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, 2nd edn. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1970), p. 434

© Domenic Marbaniang, December 19, 2007.

Why Study Major Religions

The study of major religions of the world does help us to become both a better human being and a better follower of our own faith.

After studying briefly the various major religions of the world, I could realize the universality of this quest for meaning and the eternal, despite of the many scientific developments. The further development of religions is an indication that even though we have developed materially we still are in need to develop spiritually. The dissatisfaction inside and search for fulfillment is well reflected in the way the various religions are followed. The realization of this human condition spurs me even more on the search for the truth. Even as a Christian I realize that there are still many questions that are left unanswered. This, probably, helps me to be more spiritually oriented and thus be a better human being. It is amazing to find how great a role worship and belief play in a religion. Faith in a God is indispensable to life. Tolstoy said that it was faith that gave him meaning in life. Perhaps, this understanding of the significance of faith could only be realized after studying the pathos of people of other religions.

I believe that if every individual man and woman studied the major religions with an open mind they would grow to learn to respect each other and relate to each other in ways that are more efficient. This would surely help them to be better humans. I think that instead of remaining in my own well and desiring to limit everything to and bringing everything in to it, one must get out of that well, survey the whole expanse of human spiritual experience. This would surely help him to be more sympathetic to his fellow humans. I am not encouraging here compromise. I only am emphasizing the need of a knowledge of other religions for an understanding of the human quest for spirituality, the human quest for salvation, and what that means to me as a human myself.

A study of the major religions also helps me to become a better follower of my own faith. By studying the major religions, I sense the need of studying my own religion more deeply. This, in order that I may find myself in a sure ground when proclaiming to other people that my faith is the truth. To say that I know the truth does seem to be ambitious and to say that I do not know the truth seems to be humble enough to many in this post-modern world, which follows the rule that absolute truth cannot be known. But one who has tasted and proved the truth must equip himself must also be ready to prove and confirm the truthfulness of his testimony. That is what makes a witness a witness. This forces me to study my faith more deeply.

After observing the plurality of religions, I am also forced to be committed to the truth that I know and follow it more diligently. I understand that if I didn’t do so I would not be able to proclaim to these searchers of truth the truth that I know. Unless I believe and practice my faith how can I preach it? The study of religions does challenge me to be more careful in my conversations with, behavior before, and relations with the people of other religions.

Therefore, study of major religions is very significant, especially to one undergoing ministerial training.

© Domenic Marbaniang, ACTS Academy of Higher Education, Bangalore, February 2003.

Islam: Main Teachings and 5 Pillars

The Teachings of Islam

The teachings of Islam resemble much the teachings of Judaism and Christianity. Authoritatively originating from Mohammed’s acclaimed revelations, they stood in stark contrast to the prevailing beliefs of the people of his own time. The people of Arabia were superstitious, polytheistic, and idolaters. Their lives were steeped in blind beliefs, immorality, blood-drenched wars, and purposeless living. In the midst of such chaos, Mohammed arose as a prophet of the One God to lead his people back to their God. The word “Islam” means “to surrender or to submit oneself for obedience to God."[1] A Muslim is one “who surrenders himself to obey God.” The name Islam is received from the Koran itself:

“This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion AL-ISLAM.”[2]

Mohammed tried to return his people back to God in accordance to and by the revelation, he received; they are recorded in the Holy Koran. All who chose to receive and abide by these teachings of Islam became a Muslim. Following are the teachings of Islam on God, universe, human beings, angels, Koran, and the Law:

1. God: - The Muslims refer to God as Allah. Allah means ‘the one and only God.’[3] Three things about Allah are noticeable.

a. The Uniqueness of Allah: The uniqueness of God is fundamental to the faith of Islam. Any variance from this standing is considered infidelity. This also reflects in Islam’s rejection of the Christian doctrine of Trinity. God can’t be three; He is One. This is not non-dualism. While non-dualism holds that all existences are only one existence appearing to be plural but essentially non-dual, Islamic monotheism holds that the world is surely pluralistic, God being transcendent and beyond the universe. There is nothing in this universe to match or compare with Him. Allah is the one God, the Creator of the universe. There is not and cannot be anyone equal to Him.

b. The Attributes of Allah: To know what God is like would have been very impossible if the Koran had not revealed it. This is so because there is none like Allah in the whole world. Following are some things about Allah that we can know from the Koran:
  1. Allah is eternal. He is beyond time.
  2. Allah is omniscient. Nothing, past, present, and future is hidden from Him.
  3. Allah is omnipotent.
  4. Allah’s will is supreme. Nothing can happen without His will.
  5. Allah hears all sounds; yet, He doesn’t have an ear like men.
  6. Allah sees all things; yet, He doesn’t have an eye like men.
  7. Allah communicates with men.
c. Names that Reveal His Nature: The Koran mentions various names of Allah. Following are few of them:[4]
  1. The One, the Real, the Living, the Secure, the First, the Last.
  2. The Wise, the Knower,  the One who comprehends (everything).
  3. The Great, the Powerful, the Strong, the Mighty.
  4. The Agent, the Beginner, the Creator, the King, the Sovereign, the Governor.
  5. The Hearer, the Answerer (of prayer).
  6. The Watcher, the See-er.
  7. The Giver, the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Forgiver, the Generous, the Loving.
2. The Universe: - Islam teaches that the universe is made up of both visible and invisible entities. Heaven and hell are also part of God’s universe, His creation. Angels and zins are all part of the creature world. So is Iblis the devil and his angels. Heaven is a place of cool gardens, rivers, and fruit trees. It is the place where the believers will rest forever.  Hell is the place where the wicked and the unbelievers will go to suffer forever. It has been divided into various compartments, each reserved for its kind of the condemned.

3. Human beings: - The Koran states that Allah created humans out of dust, then from a little fluid.

“Allah created you from dust, then from a little fluid, then He made you pairs (the male and female).”[5]

The life of a human is conditioned by God’s sovereign will. Nothing happens to him without Allah’s approval.

“No female beareth or bringeth forth save with His knowledge. and no one groweth old who groweth old, nor is aught lessened of his life, but it is recorded in a Book.”[6]

God appointed humans as His agents to rule on earth. And so humans are servants of Allah. The greatest honor a man can have on this earth is to be called ‘a servant of God.’ The fall of humans resulted from the disobedience of Adam who chose to listen to Satan instead of listening to Allah. Allah guides whom He wills unto a straight path.[7]

4. Angels: - Angels one of the means by which Allah communicates with and guides men. These unseen companions of men work as envoys of God. One of the most important of them is Gabriel who brought the Koran to Mohammed.

5. Koran: - The Muslims believe that the whole Koran is a copy of the Heavenly Book written before the world began. It is in the Arabic language; an exact translation of it is considered impossible. The Koran was revealed to Mohammed in portions over a time span of over twenty years. The Koran has been divided into 114 Surahs, all of which had been recorded before the Prophet’s death. In the Caliphate of Othman, all existing copies of the Holy Koran were called in and an authoritative version, based on Abu Bakr’s collection and the testimony of those who had committed the whole Koran to memory, was compiled. This version preserved in its original form till now is considered the true copy of the Heavenly Book. The Muslims treat the Koran with much veneration. They cannot tolerate any dishonor of it. They will not touch it with dirty hands and will neither hold it in hand below the loins. The Sikhs got their way of venerating the Guru Granth Sahib from the Muslims.

6. The Law: - The Law of Islam is referred to as the shari’a. This Arabic term means ‘the road to the watering-place’.[8] The Shari’a is the road of right conduct following which a person can keep himself in submission to Allah. However, every Muslim understands that conformation to this Law, especially in this age, is not totally possible. Even interpretations of it differ. Seeing the difficulties associated with it, Islamic rulers and people resorted to various means of  diluting and substituting the Shari’a with local customs and other feasible norms. Following are the two forms of law, in addition to the Shari’a, that guide the lives  of Muslims:
  1. Customary Laws: Local customs and the Shari’a are intermixed to form customary laws. The African Muslims, for example, have retained their African customs along with the Shari’a.
  2. The Civil and Criminal Laws of Government: The Shari’a was meant to regulate the lives of people of a very different time and place. Therefore, it cannot be wholly applied to a different time and situation. Muslim rulers, having sensed this difficulty, have come up with their own laws of trade and civil administration. Most Islamic countries have adopted a law code that is often based on European law. Nevertheless, the Shari’a is the law that is a reflection ideal living to every Muslim, being endorsed by the Koran itself.
The Five Pillars of Islam and Their Practice by Muslims

The five Pillars of Islam are:
  1. Declaration of the Islamic Creed: the Shahada.
  2. The Prayer-act: the Salat.
  3. Almsgiving: the Zakat.
  4. The Fast during the month of Ramadan: the Sawm.
  5. Pilgrimage to Mecca: the Hajj.
The above are mandated by the Shari’a to every Muslim. They are what makes up Islamic service, or worship, ‘ibadat.

1. Declaration of the Islamic Creed, the Shahada. The creed is a declaration in the form, “I testify that thee is no god except Allah, and that Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah.” The sincere confession of this creed makes a person a Muslim. The creed affirms the central belief of Islam that God is one, Mohammed is the final and supreme prophet of God, and he has established the brotherhood of all believers.

2. The Prayer-act, the Salat: Muslims are required to perform the Salat five times a day: at dawn, before sunrise; soon after mid-day; during the afternoon; soon after sunset; before retiring to bed. In addition to the time, a Muslim must also observe the regulation regarding the posture: stand facing towards Mecca in a fixed position, prostration with forehead on the ground. This should be done only after having undergone the required ablutions. Various prayer verses are uttered during the prayer act. The prayer is not a mere personal prayer but a requirement of the law. The prayer-act must conform to the form prescribed by the law.

The prayer-act in the Mosque is done under the leadership of the leader called the imam. Friday noon is the prescribed time for congregational prayers.

3. Alms giving, the Zakat: The Zakat refers to the giving of contributions to the poor and the payment of tribute of the crops, products, income, etc. generosity and charity are encouraged by Islam. The Zakat money usually goes for the aid of the poor, the needy, and the travelers.

4.Fasting, the Sawm: The Koran’s command regarding the observance of the fast is as follows:

“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you, that ye may ward off (evil). (Fast) a certain number of days; and (for) him who is sick among, you, or on a journey, (the same) number of other days; and for those of who can afford it there is a ransom; the feeding of a man in need – But whoso doeth good of his own accord, it is better for him: and that ye fast is better for you if ye did but know – The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth nor hardship for you; and (He desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that peradventure ye may be thankful.”[9]
This fast is observed very strictly during the day, to the extent that a Muslim is not meant to even swallow his spit during the day. Feasting, however, goes on till late in the night. During the day a Muslim is required to keep away from all food and drink, from tobacco, use of perfume, sexual intercourse, and evil speaking.

5. The Pilgrimage, the Hajj: The fifth obligation or Pillar of Islam is pilgrimage to the holy places. The prescribed time for the Hajj is the month of dhu-al-Hijrah. The primary place of pilgrimage is Mecca.  Pilgrims, having gone through the required ablutions, put on a special garment, and proceed towards the sacred area in Mecca under the guidance of specially appointed mullahs (priests). They then circle the Kaaba seven times kissing it once on each round. This Black Stone (i.e. the Kaaba) is said to have descended from the paradise of God, and will, on the last day, witness in favor of all those who had kissed it. Other spots of pilgrimage include the valley of Mina and Mount Arafat. The person who returns having completed his Hajj receives the title Haji, and obtains a very honored position in Muslim society.[10]

The festival of ‘Id al-Adha, which begins on the tenth day of the Month of Pilgrimage, is an opportunity of the whole Muslim community to share a little in the pilgrimage. ‘Id al-Adha means ‘The Festival of Sacrifice.’
    In addition to the above five obligations, a Muslim is also required to fulfill one other duty known as the Jihad. In recent times, this term has often been quoted as a controversial element of Islam, often in association with the terroristic activities carried on by Islamic fundamentalists and militants. The term originally means ‘holy war’ and refers to the duty obligatory on every Muslim ‘to strive to bring the whole world under the banner of Islam, if necessary, by war against the non-Muslim world.’[11] It is the duty of spreading Islam and thus, get the whole world to surrender to Allah, which is the only way to world peace. Though not one of the five Pillars, Jihad seems to have been given the same importance as the five of them. This element of Islamic religious duty has given rise to much religious intolerance and community tension, especially in India. Perhaps Islam has been rightly referred to as a state building religion.

    [1] David A. Brown, A Guide to Religions , (Delhi: ISPCK, 1998), p. 182
    [2] Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, Trs., The Meaning of The Glorious Koran, Surah V: 3, (New Delhi: Islamic Book Service, 1996), p.96
    [3] David A. Brown, A Guide to Religions, p.207
    [4] David A. Brown, A Guide to Religions, p.208
    [5] Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, Trs., The Meaning of The Glorious Koran, Surah XXXV: 11, p. 312
    [6] Ibid., p. 312
    [7] Ibid, Surah II. 213, p.52
    [8] David A. Brown, A Guide to Religions, p.211
    [9] Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, Trs., The Meaning of The Glorious Koran, Surah II: 183-185, p.49
    [10] K.V. Paul Pillai, India’s Search for the Unknown Christ, IV ed. (New Delhi: CLC, 1990)pp. 86,87
    [11] Ibid, p.87

    © Domenic Marbaniang, ACTS Academy of Higher Education, Bangalore, February 2003.

    Hinduism - 4 Stages of Life and 3 Ways of Salvation - Parallels with Christianity

    The Four Goals of Life

    The four goals of life according to Hinduism are dharma (righteousness), artha (worldly prosperity or material well being), kama (enjoyment or pleasure), and moksha (liberation).[i]

    1. Dharma:    Dharma is translated as righteousness, duty, law, and religion in English. In Hindu mythology, Rama, Yudhistra, and Harishchandra are all symbols of dharma – ones who symbolized the dignity and power of dharma through their lives.

    Dharma is a relative term – relative in the sense that it has sense only in its practical relation to each of the varnas and the ashramas. The edifice of law  dealing with the varnas (i.e., caste divisions) is called the varnasarama dharma. The varnasarama dharma, however, must be distinguished from the practice of the modern caste system. The Hindus came about with the varnasarama dharma theory for the purpose of benefit to the society. Dharma is social and relational. A cooperative division of labor in society is imperative for its progress. Each individual must perform his duty (dharma) as prescribed by the law related to his varna. He must be faithful to his dharma for the benefit of society and his own self.

    The mythological basis for the varnasarama dharma theory is that Brahma, the Creator God, is the originator of the castes.[ii] According to this mythical account, the Brahmin or the priestly caste came from the mouth of Brahma and so were the sole authority on deciphering and proclaiming the scriptures; the Kshatriya or the warrior group came from the arms of Brahma; the Vaisyas or merchants, from his thigh; and the Sudras or the workmen, from his foot. It is the dharma of the Brahmin not to eat non-vegetarian food. It is the dharma of the Kshatriya to protect his people from the enemies. That is the reason why when Arjun desired to back off from killing his cousins out of love and compassion, Krishna explained to him the meaning of life and dharma and encouraged him not to give in to his feelings but fulfil his dharma of being a Kshatriya by killing the enemies of righteousness, presently his brothers.

    The modern world looks at the caste-system as the greatest evil, because of the inequality it presupposes and the evil it produces. It is a hindrance to the self-actualization a Sudra. Most scholars, however, agree that the caste system originated out of pure motives – aiming towards a well-organized and cooperative society. Caste system, according to them, becomes an evil when it is implemented as a means by the upper castes to dominate and suppress the lower castes.

    The ashrama dharma divides a human life term into four stages. At each of the stages, an individual is expected to fulfil his particular ashrama dharma -- related to that particular stage – in order to attain moksha (salvation). This too is a responsibility-duty-oriented division, which we will later explore a little more.

    The Hindu concept of dharma can well be interpreted to serve utilitarian purposes. In a recent TV programme entitled COURT MARSHALL on the SAB TV, when Karan Thapar questioned Dr. Praveen Togadia about the kind of subtle maneuvers they employed while contesting the elections in Gujarat, he replied by saying that if it was dharma for Sri Rama to kill Bali from a hiding place… then it is equally right for them to employ any means to accomplish their dharmic purposes. [iii]

    2. Artha: Hinduism is not a not-this-worldly religion altogether. It also emphasizes the importance of earthly prosperity. Progress by development occurs through the pursuit of worldly and material well being, and that in accordance to the rule of dharma. This is the material aspect of life. A man not only ought to pursue righteousness (dharma) but also pursue material prosperity (artha). Almost every Hindu aspiring to be rich worships the goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. Various religious ways are sought by the Hindus to ward off an evil eye, to destroy a dangerous spell, and to tap the flow of riches.

    3. Kama: Life’s goal is also to satisfy the demands of the flesh. The enjoyment of kama, physical desire is not evil when it is pursued in accordance to the dharma in Hinduism. The erotic sculptures over the temples at Khajuraho and other places, the once prevalent practice of the devadasi system, and a host of other things bear witness to the religious encouragement of kama. It doesn’t, however, mean that Hinduism promoted licentiousness, though some of its gods favored that. Hinduism does uphold the virtues of Pativrata (a wife’s faithfulness and total allegiance to her husband) and Tyaga (renunciation of worldly desires). The pluralistic nature of Hinduism also allows a plurality of ethical ways, only they must be someway disguised as a form of dharma.

    4. Moksha: Moksha can be translated as ‘liberation’ or ‘release.’ It is the release, exit of the self from this world of existence and liberation from the series of birth and rebirths.[iv] Release can be obtained at different levels. A householder who, for example, conducts well his household affairs gets into Swarga-loka where gods live. A brahmacharya who performs well his dharma enters Maharloka. A vanaprasti enters Jnanaloka and Tapaloka to enjoy higher pleasures. A righteous sanyasin enters Satyaloka. But the final part of salvation can only be obtained when an individual merges with the Over-Soul Brahman in the final stage of realization. A person can achieve moksha by following three ways. We will examine each of them later.

    The ideas behind the doctrine of moksha are Samsara, Karma, and Punarjanma. There is also the concept of Maya (illusion – subjective and objective) which is posited to explain each of these. Samsara is the universal manifestation,[v] the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The law of Karma states that each man receives the fruit of his actions in the next birth (Punarjanma). The cycle of rebirth goes on and on until moksha is attained. Moksha is the release from rebirth by union with the absolute. By breaking loose from these chains of Maya and avidya (ignorance) and merging with Brahman in absolute identity moksha is attained.

    The Four Stages of Life

    Hinduism divides the life of man into four stages. They are as follows:

    1. Brahmacharya. The bachelor-student life.

    2. Grihastya. The householder life.

    3. Vanaprasthi. The life of retirement to forest, i.e., the hermit life.

    4. Sanyasin. The holy sage, ascetic life.

    The above four stages are known as the ashram dharmas. These were dharmas or duties assigned to each period of a man’s life. While the first three stages are said to be obligatory, i.e., all men experience them, the last is only optional, and not all men reach it.[vi] Each period or stage may be divided into 25 years each.

    The first stage of Brahmacharya is of student life. This is the period of life when man lives in the house or ashram of the guru, his teacher and guide, and under his supervision studies the sacred texts. He also acquires expertise in various fields of learning at this stage.

    The student must be obedient and submissive to his teacher, without which he can learn nothing. The guru to him is like God since he helps him to meet and know God. The respect for the guru and for the parents is to be continued to the end of ones life.

    The Grihastya is the period when a man gets married and settles down to ordinary family life. It is known as the householder life. Living with his family and looking after them, the householder also contributes much to the society in which he lives. Continuation of the family line by reproduction is a significant part of this stage. All the dharmas pertaining to this stage contribute much to the wellbeing of the society, family, and lineage. Virtues like honesty, responsibility, industry, and hospitality are obligatory during this period. The householder is not just a provider of his family needs but also a guide to his family. Dharma, artha, kama, and moksha are highly pursued during this stage.

    The Vanaprastha period, i.e., of hermit life, is the stage when a man retires to the forest with his wife and meditates on the value of life. Away from all pursuit of worldly materials, he can now concentrate on spending his time in meditating on the values of life and strive to know God. The observance of such a life is, it may be noted, highly impossible in the modern era. The ashram dharmas were solely enacted in accordance to the feasibility of circumstances during the Vedic and puranic era and could not have been envisaged for our times.

    The final stage of life, which only some can reach, is that of the holy sage, the ascetic life called the Sanyasa. During this stage a man renounces all worldly attachments, immerses himself in his struggle to know the truth and experience union with it. The Sanyasin practices hard asceticism to overpower his flesh and his senses. The goal is to become so liberated from the domain of the senses and carnal passions so as to transcend them, realize God and attain moksha.

    All that are faithful in the observance of the various varana and ashram dharmas enter the various respective gradations of heaven.

    The Three Ways to Become One with God

    Freedom from Samsara, the cycle of birth and death, is moksha. It implies union with Brahman – the only Absolute Reality. By this experience of Brahman, avidya (ignorance) is destroyed. By the power of Maya one is deceived into believing that the plurality of phenomenon is true.  In his avidya he is chained to samara, the manifest world filled with the cycle of events, of birth, death, rebirth, etc. Moksha is the eternal, intrinsic nature of the Atman and is the chief goal of life. It can neither be produced, modified, attained, nor refined since it is an accomplished fact, the intrinsic nature of the Atman that needs to be discovered by intuition. Self-realization or realization of the Atman (Self) as the reality of the universe is moksha. The key is detachment from the phenomenal world and union with Absolute Reality.

    Three ways have been prescribed by which one may attain perfection, or be liberated from the bondage of Samsara.[vii] They are as follows:

    1. The Karma Yoga, i.e., the path of work

    2. The Jnana Yoga, i.e., the path of knowledge

    3. The Bhakti Yoga, i.e., the path of devotion

    The Karma Yoga is the practical method, the Jnana Yoga is the theoretical method, and the Bhakti Yoga is the emotional method.[viii]

    1. The Karma Yoga.  This is the path of action. It essentially involves the working out of right principles in ones life so as to be liberated from the chains of Samsara. The bad Karma has its roots in selfishness and the desire for the fruit of action. The Bhagvad Gita states that action should be motivated by detachment from the desire of its fruit. Action is, indubitably, superior to inaction. Only action that is selfless is liberating.

    “If one performs all actions including daily duties dispassionately, without anger, without attachment, in the spirit of selflessness, in dedication to God, without desire for the fruit, such action will free the individual soul and will lead him to perfection.”[ix]

    Such action alone constitutes sacrifice. Every single act must be a sacrifice (Yagna). Sanyasa is the renunciation of the desire and not the renunciation of action. Tyaga is the renunciation of the fruit of all works. Karma includes acts of sacrifices, gifts, austerity, dharma, etc. but true, liberating Karma is desireless.

    2. The Jnana Yoga. It is the way of knowledge, not the kind of scientific or physical knowledge that the world pursues but a metaphysical, a mystical one. It is the knowledge of reality as it is by union with it. While the plurality of the universe as it appears to us does constitute our experience of self and the world, the Gita calls for consideration of the Jnana Yoga. It calls for union with the absolute non-dual Reality – the realization of self as Self. For this the mind must be disciplined and tuned in with Reality. The individual self is the hindrance when it phenomenalises as a separate entity from other entities. Jnana or knowledge happens when this self realizes that it is Brahman – Being – Reality; and that all the other phenomena is itself in manifestation. It is held that Jnana Yoga is difficult without Karma Yoga. Study of the Vedas and other scriptures is the action followed by long periods of reflection and meditation.

    3. The Bhakti Yoga. This is the way of devotion, the way of trust and love. Devotion is interpreted as the bond of trust and love to a personal God.[x] Unlike Jnana Yoga, which focuses on the Impersonal Brahman, Bhakti Yoga focuses on a loving attachment to God, a longing for God for its own sake. To be noted is the concept of this God as being transcendent and yet totally immanent. All icons of this God are to be considered as symbolical. Absolute meditation and undivided devotion to Ishwara is essential to Bhakti. God must become his/her sole refuge. For those who have found Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga extremely difficult, the Bhakti marga comes in as solace.

    A true devotee has three distinctive qualities: evenmindedness, undivided devotion, and skill in action. These three qualities woven together in perfect harmony within the devotee knit him/her to his/her Lord. By absolute devotion, one is united to his/her Lord in love. Stories abound of how Vishnu finds the marks of the beating inflicted on his devotee’s body on his own. The Lord is so tied to his devotee that in one story he forgets to bring his chakra along with him when he hurries to rescue his devotee from peril.

    Thus, by following any of the above three ways a person can find his/her way to God.

    Parallels in Christianity

    The Four Goals: Christianity also talks of righteousness, material prosperity, enjoyment of life, and salvation (Matt. 6: 23; Ps. 1; Eph. 6:3; Ps.104: 14;

    Jn. 3: 16), but it has no division of class or caste within it. It neither does set rules for ashrama dharmas. The moksha of Christianity is moksha from sin, its condemnation, and its misery. Hinduism talks of liberation from the misery of the world. But then it delimits that misery as being an illusion of the self and reduces it to a picture of recurring birth. The difference centers on the diagnosis of the human problem. It also consists on how the solution is formulated. “Why is a man here” (the goal of human existence) is tied to “Where did man come from” and “Where is he going?” What a person believes about his origin and his destiny (past and future) affects his decision (present) greatly. Christianity does differ greatly from Hinduism in the explanation of all these three questions, although it resembles superficially to it in its acknowledgement of the belief on creation and judgement.

    The Four Stages of Life: Although Christianity doesn’t subscribe to the theory of ashram dharma, it does uphold the virtues of social responsibility, duty, protection of family, respect of parents and elders, detachment from carnal lusts, sacrificial giving, etc. One is required to fulfill his duty according to his position. There is a time for everything.

    The Three Ways: Christianity, especially in its Protestant form, emphasizes the fact and is built on the assumption that man can never be reconciled to his God by his own works. Man is intrinsically sin-proned, lustful, and proud. That is why, we have the concepts of Grace, Sacrifice, and Atonement on which Christianity stands. But a Christian is saved unto good works (Eph. 2: 10).

    Christianity does talk about spiritual knowledge, but it is the practical knowledge of knowing God as ones Lord and accepting Jesus as ones Lord and Savior (Jn. 3:16). The world is not an illusion. It is real – created by God. The self is not God. But man is created in the image of God and the Christian is expected to grow up in the image of Christ the Son of God. In this way, the Karma marga doesn’t is a failure according to Christianity. Jnana can be reinterpreted as knowledge of God, not intellectual but personal and relational. It is not Jnana of one being God himself but Jnana of God as ones God.

    Christianity finds great parallels in Bhakti Yoga. Devotion is sublime to Christianity. “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” is said to be the greatest of the commandments. Loving God and obeying his commandments (Bhakti and Karma) go together. Christian Bhakti, however, is anti-idolatry. Idolatry is considered an affront on the dignity of God. The devotional hymns of popular Hinduism are much parallel to Christian worship. The only basic differentiating element is the cross of Jesus Christ, which also segregates Christianity from any other religion of the world.

    [i] David A. Brown, A Guide to Religions , (Delhi: ISPCK, 1998), p. 79
    [ii] Ibid., p. 68
    [iii] Not exact quotation. Court Marshall, SAB TV, 23rd January, 03; 10:30 PM
    [iv] David A. Brown, A Guide to Religions, p. 68
    [v] Glimpses of World Religions, (Mumbai: Jaico Publishing House, 1957), p. 39
    [vi] David A. Brown, A Guide to Religions, p. 31
    [vii] Glimpses of World Religions, p. 31
    [viii] Ibid., p. 31
    [ix] Ibid., p. 32
    [x] Ibid., p. 36

    © Domenic Marbaniang, ACTS Academy of Higher Education, Bangalore, February 2003.

    Origin of Religions

    The subject of the origin of religions is not free from debate. Perspectives differ along presuppositions. Even the scientific versions are not beyond dispute. Novel discoveries are forcing us to re-examine these scientific theories of religion that were considered to be axiomatic.

    Much of the problem involved in the study of pre-literary religions arises because of the lack of sufficient historical information dating back to the time when religion began. What all we have that can give actual information dares from the literary period (c. 3000 BC) — the time when the great civilizations were rising and priesthood was being developed with the building of temples, idols, altars, and scriptures.

    Archaeological findings dating to the time before the literary period do give some idea, but the interpretations cannot be considered conclusive, since they lack absolute evidence – i.e., evidence that proves the interpretations as being beyond doubt. A stone ‘altar’ might not have really been an altar after all. Though the various religious scriptures give some idea of the kind of religion practiced by their respective adherents, each of them differ in at least some way from each other in their descriptions of the origin of religion.[i]

    Robert Brow cannot be considered wrong when he answers the question “What was the first religion of man?” with the statement: “Answers to this question differ widely and depend very much on what view is taken of man’s origin.”[ii] A polytheistic view, for instance, would opt for a polytheistic approach to religious history. An evolutionist would view religion as an evolved or evolving system.

    The disagreement among the accounts intensifies the problem even more. Formerly, most would have chosen to cling fundamentally to their own religious tradition; but with the advent of Darwinism and the new ideological shift it provided, the intellectual climate was challenged. Darwin’s naturalistic evolutionism provided a newer perspective and way of approach. Herbert Spencer applied the idea of evolution not just to biology but also to psychology, sociology, religion, and ethics. Thus the evolutionary process of religion was charted as from animism to polytheism to monotheism, pantheism, and monism.

    The evolutionist viewpoint begins with the view that man evolved from a pre-simian ancestor. And so, since animals have no religion, a long period of apish chatter and fear of the unknown marked the trail towards the first religion “animatism”. “Animatism,” a “belief in a vague, potent, terrifying inscrutable force”[iii] preceded “animism,” the spirit-fearing religion of tribals. Out of animism arose polytheism, when the nature-spirits began to be attributed with personality—intellect, emotions, and volition. Evolutionists believe that a certain form of polytheism divided the many gods hierarchically: one god was exalted above all the other gods in some way. Then each tribe began giving allegiance to a particular tribal god until monotheism was formed. Some philosophers (especially in India) began so deep an inward search that they ended up in abstractions concluding that Truth was beyond the domain of senses and could only be realized through self-abnegation. Pantheism and monism arose as a result.

    The scientific garb worn by evolutionism greatly attracted and influenced scholars of most disciplines. It appeared to be proved, factual, and correct. In the west, the struggle to resolve the conflict between science and religion was tentatively solved by Wellhausen’s documentary hypothesis, which attempted to interpret the Pentateuch to fit in with the evolutionary theory of history. Wellhausen’s theory has now, however, been discredited and discarded by most scholars.

    The archaeological findings and writings of early historical period give evidence of a monotheistic religion with priestly practices. Wilhelm Schmidt of Vienna and anthropologists led by him have shown that hundreds of tribes around the world do not follow animism as their original religion. But most of them have a faint picture of a ‘high-god,’ a benign father-creator-god, who seems to be almost forgotten, so transcendent and so alienated that he is no longer feared. In place of him have come spirits that are dreaded and sought to appease. In other words, animism was not preceded by animatism, but it was preceded by monotheism. Religion has not evolved; it had degraded.

    The hypothesis of evolution is also not beyond controversy. It has both scientific and rational as well as historical problems involved in it. That is one of the reasons why we can contend that the biblical answer is not to be so easily dismissed as outdated.  It has already been shown how anthropological researches have indicated that monotheism may be more naturally primitive as a world-view than animism. Thus, it is arbitrary to just state that religion has evolved, without considerations for other viewpoints and evidences.

    The multiplication of evidence against the theory that religion originated in the fear of the dark unknown, feeling of dependence, and apish chatter and evolved into animism, polytheism, and consequentially, monotheism and monism; and the growing evidence in support of religion as having first started as monotheism and later degraded to polytheism, animism, and pantheism forces us to reconsider the biblical vantage point.

    Turning to the biblical viewpoint, we see that God created the first man in His own image and likeness – i.e., as a rational, moral, volitional, and spiritual being – and began to have fellowship with him. Thus began the first religion as a relationship between God and man. The fall of man in disobedience to God’s commandment brought in the element of sacrifice. Later, descendents of Adam began to depart from the original concept of God, and the more they departed away the more distorted their conception of God, of human life, and human responsibility became. After the confusion of languages at Babel, people became divided rapidly into nations by languages and families (Gen.10: 5). Paul’s theological interpretation of this historical event was that God “made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth, and determined the times before appointed, and bounds of their habitations; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him.” (Acts 17: 26,27). This division of clans and communities prevented faster spread of religious degeneration as it had, earlier to the flood. Religious degeneration was also checked by the destruction of the tribe or ethnic group that degenerated in its morality. This is a well-witnessed fact of history. Immorality weakens a tribe to such an extent that it falls prey to invading tribes, thus bringing disaster on itself.

    Signs of a system of sacrifice in pre-literary religion seem to be almost every where. But a clear interpretation of their purpose is not very easy. Only data dating from the literary period is of substantial help. Prehistory gives proof for none of the theories. That is to say, what may be considered as proof for one theory of religious history can also be interpreted as proof for an other. In addition, how do we even know that the objects had religious significance in the first place? And so whatever evidence we have dates from the time when religion had come a long way from its first and original state. By the time religion began, it had already developed a system of priesthood, place of worship, etc. therefore, since we can obtain no absolute proof for even our hypothesis of the origin of religion, we may, on recourse to reason opt for the biblical account as our starting point. Monotheism explains several historical facts that are intractable on the evolution of religion hypothesis.[iv]

    Traces of the sacrificial system can be found in ancient religion. Sacrifice was a means of approaching God or gods. The nomadic Aryan tribes who invaded the Indus and Ganges plains brought along with them to India the practice of sacrifice. After their settlement in India they developed a regular priesthood, and the Vedas were born during this period. The Vedas are hymns chanted during the sacrifice. The hymns address God as ‘the sun,’ ‘the heavenly one,’ ‘the storm.’ And no matter whatever name was given to God, He was worshipped as the supreme ruler of the universe. This practice is referred to as henotheism. Later, henotheism changed into polytheism when the various names were personified to form various gods. And so, by 1000 BC, it is understood that the Vedic religion had become polytheistic; whereas, in its earliest forms it has an appearance of being monotheistic.

    Attention may be focussed at the origin of the various names of God while discussing the origin of religions. The Creator-God has been called by various names in different nations. At first he was referred to as Dyaus Pitar (‘divine father’) which is the same as the Greek Zeus Pater, the Latin Jupiter or Deus, the early German Tiu or Ziu, and Norse Tyr. He was also known as ‘the heavenly one’ (Sanskrit Varuna, Greek Ouranos), or ‘the friend’ (Sanskrit mitra, Persian mithra). He was also, later, referred to as ‘the fire’ (Sanskrit agni, Latin ignis, Greek hagnos) which was crucial to the sacrificial event.

    As time went by, stories and myths increased in these religions. Polytheism went rampant and deities were identified in the forms of terrestrial creatures. Sex was added to worship in the fertility cult with a host of superstitious beliefs. Monotheism having degenerated into polytheism, the religious situation got worse and worse until, finally, monotheism became almost untraceable.[v] However, monotheism didn’t totally vanish from the face of the earth. Some groups still worshipped the one true God.

    Priests had become significant to religion because of the mediatory role they played between God and man. Ancient India, China, Egypt, classical Greece, Rome, and many other civilizations found priesthood emerging in their religions. The priests performed the religious rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices. Later, this priesthood degenerated into priestcraft with all its malicious and rapacious depravedness.  Rituals increased with time and apparent need. Writings, hymns, collections, etc., came into being. Thus originated religion, which still keeps going on.

    We can summarize the account of the origin of religion by stating that it began, as far as it seems reasonable to assume, with the creation of man and his first understanding of God as the Almighty Creator God. This form of pure monotheism, however, began degenerating by the impact of sin into polytheism and other forms that expressed separation from God.

    The Concept of God, Nature, Fear, and Salvation in Pre-Literary Religions

    As to what the pre-literary-era man conceived of God is also open to discussion as has already been seen. The evolutionist would say that God was once conceived of as the dark unknown, then as forces of nature, then as spirits, gods, and lately – towards the beginning of literature-- as the transcendent God. But the biblical perspective suggests something very different. Anyway, resorting to archaeological findings becomes necessary once information regarding pre-literary religion is sought.

    The interpretation of archaeological findings is not so easy. Pre-literary and pre-history are synonymous since pre-historic period refers to the period before recorded history. The period of interpretation of pre-historic materials is the difficulty one faces when ascertaining whether an object was used for religious purposes or for something else. Pre-historic source materials include the following:[vi]
    1. Burial places and burial finds,
    2. Deposition of offerings,
    3. Representation of deities, spirits, and cultic figures (carved idols, reliefs, rock paintings, etc.),
    4. Remains of constructions with religious associations, such as altars, temples, or foundations of world pillars.
    The pre-historic period has been divided into
    1. The Paleolithic – Old Stone Age. Historians consider the people of this period to be hunters, food-gatherers, and fishers.
    2. The Neolithic – New Stone Age (c. 10,000 BC). During this period the hunters began turning into farmers.
    Viewing from the monotheistic viewpoint, we may infer that the people of the Paleolithic period regarded God as the one who protected them and helped them in their hunting episodes. Following the monotheistic theory (that religion degenerated from monotheism to all of its other forms), we may assume that this God of the hunters became very significant only to the utilitarianistic purposes of later generations. That is to say, He was worshipped not for relationship but for benefit. For example, bear skulls found in Drachenloch cave in Switzerland seem to indicate that the dead bears’ skulls were so buried in stone coffins because it was believed that the dead animal will return to life, or persuade its relatives to make themselves available to the hunter. If this plausible ‘cultic interpretation’ is true then it indicates not only how much the concept of God had fallen down but also how low the need of worship and its quality had come down.

    From 30,000 – 10,000 BC spans the Upper Paleolithic Age. The way the bodies were buried during this period gives evidence of a clear belief in life after death. Also during this time the cult of the mother-goddess appeared. The idols have very distorted features with the breasts, hips, and sexual parts excessively enlarged. This emphasis on the private parts is a sure evidence of religion degenerating into a kind of naturalism – fertility cults. The concept of hunting magic might also have appeared during this period as is indicated by the cave paintings. If it was so the concept of a Transcendent, All-powerful, Sovereign God was delimited now to a power that could be tapped in by formulas.

    It is certain that man was very fearful of natural forces that could be hazardous to his survival. And so he was turning more and more to the mercy of nature, which he personified in many forms.

    Urarina shaman in the Peruvian Amazon, 1988.
    The Neolithic Period  (from 10,000 BC) is the period during which objects of stones are not found as chipped but as grounded and polished. During this period, producing replaced hunting. Warm weather and fast melting ice characterize the climate.  Farming and village life are established. Pottery, weaving, and agriculture come to scene. Dogs and goats are domesticated. Death and burial beliefs appear. Graves have been found with gifts in them; probably, indicating a certain kind of belief in life after death. Fertility rites also abound. Temples appear with altars, vases, etc., inside. The megalithic monuments, dolmens, and menhirs indicate that the priesthood had also indulged in astrology and magic. Superstitions and religious rituals might as well have begun to abound with further leanings towards magic, taboos, totems, and witchcraft. The interpretations are, however, only probabilities.

    The temples became the places of sacrifice. Salvation-beliefs may be divided into salvation-present and salvation-future. Salvation-present was survival-oriented and was sought by appeasing gods and goddesses and also by nature worship. Salvation-future was for the peace of the soul after death. The family members buried their dead one with gifts that would give him/her comfort. There are a varied possibilities of interpretations, however.

    In short, pre-historic religion with its concept of God, fear, nature, salvation might be considered to be much superstitious and utilitarianistic arising from a fear of the natural forces and the instinct for survival. Anyway, we should not presume that our hypothesis is the final.

    [i] A Lion Handbook,  The World’s Religions, (Oxford, 1992), pp. 28-32
    [ii] Ibid., p.30
    [iii] Ibid., p.30
    [iv] Ibid., p. 32
    [v] Ibid., pp. 32-33
    [vi] Ibid., pp.22

    © Domenic Marbaniang, ACTS Academy of Higher Education, Bangalore, February 2003.

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