Of knowledge and understanding

What is abnormal is not having prejudices, famous ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss stated. Still, we have the ability to see through what he called ‘sound prejudices’

We all agree that if we are to understand the present times and the world today, we should have a thorough knowledge of world history, the evolution of mankind, the development of philosophical thinking, political structures, economics, science, various cultures and religions which shape people’s minds and hearts across the continents. We all acknowledge that a lifetime is not enough to acquire a thorough knowledge of every single aspect of various experiences related to mankind. Those who spend a lifetime specializing in one or two fields of knowledge may have a solid command of specific fields and write profusely about them, but they certainly have a loose grasp of or totally miss out on other aspects of knowledge. If we are to understand, we have to know. There is no doubt about that. And it is a time-consuming and challenging task to delve into every aspect of development in this big, big world.

Yet the pursuit of knowledge is not only enthralling and fascinating, it is of utmost importance and indispensable for overall progress in every aspect of life. Even if our worldview is shaped by our intellectual and spiritual make-up, cultural outlook and emotional intelligence, we do have the ability to see beyond personal experience. Beyond the experience of ethnicity, cultural and national group we are born in. Reason is an indispensable help in the pursuit of objectivity and truth to understand what is happening around us. Our understanding may sometimes be tainted by prejudice. What is abnormal is not having prejudices, famous ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss stated. Still, we have the ability to see through what he called ‘sound prejudices’ and resort to knowledge and facts, and apply reason to keep a degree of sanity when things go berserk around us.

Our mind is not a telescope zooming on and showing in a close-up everything that makes the world what it is today in all its complexities. But when we gear our mind or our mind naturally gears towards specific topics for years, there are a few things we know in no uncertain terms.

It is our duty to communicate and express straightforwardly and fearlessly the few things we know.

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Mixing politics with religion

 About two weeks ago, a mass was held at Grand Bay church to mark the end of Père Laval pilgrimage. Children were running around and playing noisily in the yard, scouts in uniform hung about in a clustered group. At 4 pm, the church was full. You happen to accompany someone there mainly, out of curiosity.

On the right of an elevated platform where the priest stood, a screen above projected religious songs and hymns, mainly centering on the quest of Light and God’s love and forgiveness, which all the people chanted now and then. Befitting the occasion, the priest drew a parallel between Père Laval’s work and mission and the life and sacrifice of Jesus, insisting on how Père Laval gave up his career to attend to the material and spiritual needs of the people. He made a passing reference to the government in its dealing with the La Butte incident and the need to establish communication and dialogue.

In the house of God in the Catholic tradition, politics is forever present. Something you never hear in Hindu temples, religious ceremonies and speeches by swamis and pundits. Not even in ceremonies performed in houses. In the Hindu tradition, the house of God is meant for communing with the Divine in its different representations. Nothing else. Not to bring new-born babies, dead people, celebrate weddings, and least of all, to talk politics.

The priest was a Franco-Mauritian. Most of the people were Creoles, adults and children, with a few Franco-Mauritians and scarcely two or three foreigners, judging from the hands that went up at the priest’s bidding. At times, the priest asked the children short questions as: Do you believe in Jesus as the son of God?, Do you accept his teachings? Do you want to follow him? And so on. And every time, the children replied in a chorus: Yes, we believe in Jesus… Yes, we accept… Yes, we want … and so on. Not different from pupils repeating answers learnt by heart. The scouts looked quite excited to walk to the front, giggling all their way, face the public and chant.

When their turn was over, they merrily walked out in line.

Several times the audience was invited to ask forgiveness for their sins, closed fist on their heart. At the end, as sinners they were asked to go down on their knees on the lower wooden benches in front and utter some prayer.

Of Pharisees and idols

At a point in the course of his speech, the priest warned the audience about Pharisees and idols. Across the street, a loudspeaker called the faithful to prayer. It was 5 pm.

The history of religions in the Abrahamic tradition flashed across your mind. Outside, we shook our heads at the obsession with idols. What did the priest mean by his criticism of Pharisees and idols? How did the audience interpret this reference? What do they exactly know about Pharisees? Is Christianity devoid of idols? Pharisees and idols are without any doubt presented as enemies believers should constantly be wary of.

In the Mauritian context, it is a glaring criticism of other forms of religion in somewhat veiled terms. Just imagine the impact on the audience when this kind of discourse is voiced out in no unveiled terms at different periods of our history.

We commented on the millennia-old obsession with pre-Abrahamic forms of worship of their forefathers that continued to haunt their descendants in that region and how it spread across the world. If even after more than two millennia of successful proselytism worldwide, the anti-idol speech is still alive, it reveals a deep lack of self-confidence and fear.

Historically, Pharisees were Jews who followed the Law in the oral tradition and later Sages had it written down. A school of thought which accepted the Law and rites in their purest form and also discussed their adaptation to different periods and realities. According to prominent historians on that period, Jesus was a Pharisee Jew from Galilea and it was from his regular attendance at the synagogue of the Pharisees that he became well-versed in the study and practice of Judaism in the pure tradition of Israel. It is where he learnt the fundamental ethic of ‘love for others’ and ‘loving others as you love yourself’ which meant, in those days, love for any human being who wishes to get close to spiritual leaders. It became the core ethic in his teachings in the years 28-30, illustrated by the parable of The Good Samaritan. He was considered as a rabbi by his first disciples.

Jesus taught only for three years and he had no problem with fellow Jews. He was also viewed as being charismatic, secular and liberal in whatever criticism he may have made against the predominant practices. According to Jewish and European historians, even the most anti-Judaism historian admitted that Jesus was only a Pharisee Jew who preached obedience to God and he did not start a new religion.

How the image of Pharisees and all Jews was distorted

We are given to understand that Pharisees came to mean hypocrites for a simple reason. From historians’ point of view, the teachings of Jesus started to be written by the apostles in what became the Gospel 70 years after his death. In the meantime, the apostles who defined themselves as Christians and wanted to create a separate doctrine based on a few ideals got into conflict with the Pharisees. When they tried to win over the hearts and minds of Pharisees to adhere to their selective and restrictive doctrine, they encountered resistance. And they were excluded from synagogues. So in their writings 70 years later, they transposed the conflict to the era of Jesus and claimed that Jesus cursed Pharisees. The latter were represented as people who considered others as inferior and only believed in a pure form of Law, practices and rites which their behaviour did not reflect through the prism of the new Christian way of thinking of the Gospel writers.

In the process and in the course of history, a simplistic black and white picture of Christians and Jews gained ground.

We know the evolution of the new doctrine in the Middle-East region among diverse populations and Europe, and its bright fate in the hands of Romans, Gauls, Teutons and others. The rest is history – how three years of teachings of a charismatic Pharisee Jew became a movement which impacted the course of history.

The continuous battle for supremacy

No one needs an introduction to the blood-stained history of monotheism in the Abrahamic tradition. But everyone should feel concerned about what is propagated in speeches of all kinds not only in hot spots of religious conflicts and tensions but also in peaceful societies.

Everyone should ask themselves why after such successful proselytization and phenomenal expansionism, there is still need to vilify others and run down their system of beliefs. Why preachers of all hues are so insecure and fearful about what continues to survive despite all their verbal assaults.

How does the idea of Pharisees and idols go down with the audience in a multi-cultural society is worth considering. On the day following the Grand Bay mass, an encounter with a member of the Assembly of God for which MBC-TV broadcast an advertisement for financial benefit on the occasion of an opening at Coromandel was mind-boggling. A Hindu convert with very low IQ like most of such members you see around. The fellow kept criticizing idols.

It left us wondering about the difference between religions and sects. About how religions became successful sects.


  • Published in print edition on 22 September 2017
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