Tuesday, September 8, 2015

On Islam and Christianity

   Recently I posted a small article in Facebook on Islam and Christianity. Here is the article:
    "Dear friends, I think it is time to find out what is common for Christianity and Islam rather than looking for how they are different. We are 99% similar, only 1% different, aren't we? Let us focus on the similarities and live together peacefully in this world rather than waste our precious time arguing over negligible differences.
    We agree that there is only on God. We both honor Jesus. We both worship God. We both have prayer and fasting. We both teach an practice a God-fearing life. We both have similar stories of the creation of the world. We both believe in heaven and hell. We both want to surrender ourselves to God. We both want to live a Godly life. We both want to support and help the poor and the needy ..........
    However, instead of focusing on these similarities, we have been digging the negligible differences among us, and in this process we have forgotten that we are 99% similar. The result? We fight with each other needlessly. Can we all focus on the similarity and discover that we are on the same side and not on opposite sides?
    The differences among us are in some beliefs. Beliefs are beliefs. They cannot be proved. They don't have evidences. Beliefs exist because there are people who believe those beliefs. Let us look at our beliefs objectively instead of fighting for them. They are not worth fighting for. Even within Islam people hold slightly different beliefs about various things. Within Christianity, people hold different beliefs, which is why there are thousands of churches. Let us accept the fact that people will always have different beliefs, and our beliefs keep changing.
    Look, we are brothers. We belong to the same family of God. We are not supposed to fight over our beliefs. Can we ignore the beliefs that separate us?
    Friends, please share this important message of peace among your friends, and let us save our world from extremist movements."

  I am glad several people found time to read this article and comment. When I saw the comments, I thought I shall write some explanation and elaboration of that article. First let me go over the comments. A few people agreed with my perspective. They said:
    "If only more people understand this the world will be a better place to live!"
    "If we go deep into all the religions, we will find our believes very similar . Depending on different places just like languages are different, application of believes will differ. Basically same."
    "Correctly said. Let's hope this message brings a beginning for a good change."

But some others couldn't appreciate this perspective. They were in favor of Christianity.
    "The Holy Quran emphatically proves that Jesus has passed away like other mortal human beings, and is no longer alive anywhere. It clearly states that Jesus possessed only human characteristics, and was in no way divine but a servant of God and his messenger. If the fundamentals are different then the whole thing is different right ..... There is no point in similarities .As humans (as Christians ) we should live in harmony with each other ...."
    "Sorry I am not agree with you. There is big difference between Christian and Islam. Jesus teach us to Love the people even they are our enemy but Mohammad teaching kill the people those who are not believe in Islam."
    "Pls go through the real history of Islam and that of Muhammad. Then u will understand what is Islam. Try to read Quran, the words of Muhammad. We can't blame ISIS for the cruelty and barbarian deeds since they r only following their book. Also watch the speeches of EA Jabbar on you tube."
    "Christian's are peace making people. The Islam believes when they kill, rape, and assault people, then they get heaven with70 virgins.The Christians believes that is sin.."

    One person had a slightly different view. He distinguishes between real and namesake followers of religion.
    "You live as a true Muslim or christian then automatically Peace and Harmony prevail in this globe. Basic problem is name sake Muslim and Christian people only, be true to your religion."

    Although I posted in a forum where Muslims could also read it, no one cared to respond. Perhaps my perspective was too strange for them.

Perspectives: Subjective and Objective   

    The perspective I am taking in this article may be described as a neutral one. If you belong to a religion other than Islam or Christianity, it is easy for you to assume such a perspective. But if you are a Christian or a Muslim, such a perspective is very hard for you because you are very much used to the viewpoint of your own religion.

    Please look at the following diagrams and try to understand what I am trying to say here. 

If you belong to Religion 1, you look at Religion 2 from within your religion. That is your viewpoint. Similarly if you belong to Religion 2, you look at the other one from within your religion. Let us call it a subjective perspective.

    It is not easy to assume a neutral viewpoint as shown in this diagram. You will have to imagine that you are standing outside your religion, and you will have to see both religions in front of you. Let us call it an objective perspective.

    Although such a shift of perspective is not easy, it can be learned and practiced. I am not asking anyone to leave their own religious community. I am simply asking you to imagine that you assume a neutral position, and you see both religions objectively. This is what I have done in my short article. 

Facts and Opinions
    Let me also explain another distinction I have used in my article. I have distinguished between facts and beliefs. Facts are independent statements. They stand by themselves supported by evidences. However, beliefs (opinions) are dependent statements. They always depend upon people who hold those beliefs. Let me explain the differences with examples:

  1.     Christianity is a religion.
  2.     Christianity has been in existence for about 2000 years.
  3.     Most of the Christians believe that Jesus is God's incarnation.
These statements are facts. They stand on their own feet. There is no difference of opinion about the truth of these statements. Now let us look at some other statements:
  1.     Christianity is the only true religion.
  2.     Christianity will continue to exist forever.
  3.     Jesus is God.
These are not facts. These statements are the beliefs of some people. If no one believes in these beliefs, they won't exist any more. Beliefs cannot be proved or disproved simply because they don't have any evidences to support them. 
    A lot of people find it hard to make this distinction. They often take beliefs for facts. For example, for most of the Christians the belief "Jesus is God" is a fact. All religions have their own beliefs. But unfortunately, most of the followers of a religion do not see their beliefs as beliefs, but as fact. This is a very simple thing that all people need to learn, and this simple knowledge can save our world from religious extremists.
    "The Holy Quran emphatically proves that Jesus has passed away". This is a quote from a comment I received. I would modify this sentence as follows. "The Holy Quran argues that Jesus has passed away". Proving and arguing are two different things. Quran only argues that Jesus passed away. How can Quran prove it?

    Let us focus on the facts. Both Christians and Muslims are homo sapiens that live upon the earth. Both need air to breath, water to drink, and food to eat. Both need clothes and shelter. Both have the same physical, psychological, and social characteristics and needs. Both have birth and death, and both have to struggle to exist. They feel hungry and thirsty in the same way. They laugh and cry in the same way. Although they live their life almost in the same way, they have slightly different views of the meaning and purpose of life. The way they talk about their life varies slightly due to their cultural differences. Their religious beliefs and rituals slightly vary.

    Let us learn to distinguish between fact and belief. Let us accept the fact that people have always  had different beliefs. It is impossible to attain uniformity of beliefs in the world.  
    Let us also learn to distinguish between subjective versus objective viewpoint, and let us learn to look at our religion objectively as well.
    Christians, do you hope to make the world a better place by converting all Muslims to Christians? Even if you do so, there will be new divisions within Christianity, and new religions will keep on arising. Muslims, do you hope to make the world a better place by killing or converting all the Christians? Even if you do so, don't you think Sias and Sunnis will develop into two separate religions and fight with each other. Let us stop our attempts to convert or get rid of others. Let us accept the fact that it is human to have varying beliefs. Can we just respect one another as human beings? Why don't we just live and let live?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Our Visit to Kudil and St. Gregorios Chapel of Transfiguration in Peermedu

My wife, Lissy, and I had a blessed opportunity to visit the St. Gregorios Chapel of Transfiguration in Peermedu on 5th August 2015. We parked near the Taluk hospital in Peermedu and Fr. Sanjay Geevarghese kindly gave us a jeep ride to the chapel. It was a very narrow and rough road over one kilometer. He parked the jeep at Moonnaattumukku, and then we climbed up a hilly path.

The path to the chapel reminded us of what Jesus said about the
narrow and hard one that leads to life. And just like Jesus said, there are only a few who find it. We couldn't have found the place without the help of Fr. Sanjay. Later when I mentioned this to Fr. K.M.George, he said with a smile that it was intentionally done so. They intended this place to be found only by those few who have the will to seek, and have sufficient commitment.

At the very top of the hill was a simple one-room hut and the St. Gregorios Transfiguration chapel, made of bamboo and grass. Fr. George explained that instead of saying bamboo and grass, we may say that the chapel is made of grass, for bamboo also belongs to the class of grass! 

We had been warned to be prepared for the blood-sucking leeches. They sense our heat and jump on to our feet. Lissy took precaution by applying some detol mixed with oil on her feet, and no leeches touched her. I didn't apply any detol on my feet hoping that they might not get to my feet passing my shoes and socks. However, on examining my legs after getting to the Kudil, I found two of them sucking my blood right above the socks. They jumped on to my shoes and crept up slowly. The funny thing is that I didn't feel any sensation at all. Even a mosquito bite gives us a little pain, but this creature has the amazing ability to suck our blood without our knowing it. I poured a drop of detol on each of them, and they rolled down to the floor, and the bleeding stopped in a minute. The leeches are present there only during the rainy season. When it gets warm, they go underground. 

The chapel, semicircular in shape, is made with a living mango tree at its pivotal point. A huge boulder is used as the altar (thronos). A stone lamp (kalvilakku) is erected at the entrance of the chapel. Three years before the  chapel was erected, they had built a rustic hut with one room, a kitchen platform, and a verandah. The verandah had been used for  fellowship gatherings and the liturgy. The entire facility is at present called the Kudil  or the hut, which is literally so.

Kudil-Hermitage is the fruit of the vision of a  
group of friends who had created a fellowship called Saha Dharma Sangha some 10 years ago. They bought one  acre of land, and eventually built a hut.  As in ancient times, they found a mountaintop as the ideal place to experience the Divine. Far away from the noisy world, this was chosen as an ideal place for quiet meditation and sharing . Here you feel one with God; you also feel one with the nature that surrounds you. The trees that touch the sky, the shrubs that dance as a breeze flows around them, and the birds that sing melodies -- you are expected to feel homesick for  the Garden of Eden. Today with our modern comforts, and with various facilities offered by modern technology, we have been moving farther away from the joy of nature. This Kudil in Peermedu is a symbol of our earnest desire to leave behind our meaningless mechanical life, and return to the simplicity, sharing,  and meaningfulness symbolized by the Garden of Eden.    

Together with the initial team of Fr George,  Fr. Bijesh Philip, Fr. Thomas Varghese and Mr. Mathew Panayil, who started  the open fellowship of Saha Dharma Sangha  some 10 years ago, there are Fr Sanjay, Mr. George Skaria, Dr George Cherian,  and a number of other committed friends who share and contribute to the vision of Kudil and the Transfiguration chapel in the name of St Gregorios of Pampady.

In September 2014, The Catholicos, Marthoma Baselius Paulose II, visited this place out of his
personal interest, stayed there for two days, slept in the  very rustic  hut without any modern facility  and celebrated the first Holy Qurbana in the chapel. During the  Great  Lent in March 2015  Metropolitan Mar Theodocios of Idukki  led the  Lenten retreat of the priests of his Diocese at  the Kudil. Nature lovers and writers like  the well-known  wild photographer N.A. Nazeer have also stayed  at the Kudil.

Fr. Sanjay Geevarghese, who lives in the area, had supervised all the eco-friendly construction and now takes care of the Kudil and chapel like a local guardian. 
It was on August 5th that we visited this place. We started from Kottayam at 8:00 am and we reached there at about 10:30 am. There were a few young priests as well as a few engineering students. At about 11:30, we met in the chapel, where Fr. George led a meditative conversation. He talked about how we can gain the perspective and the insight to view nature as Scripture. It was followed by a lively discussion on this topic, and then we had the noon prayer. Then we all went to the nearby hut, and we had lunch there. Food was brought from outside, but we were told that usually very simple food is cooked there itself by the participants in the sessions.

We had to leave in the afternoon though others stayed on to continue the reflections, and to celebrate the  Eucharistic liturgy the next day. Fr. Sanjay took us back to the main road. He told us that it would be easier to get there once the rainy season is over.

It would be good to create some simple facility attached to Kudil for visitors who want to stay for 2 or 3 days for prayer, meditation and walking in the lap of nature though that, of course, might require assistance from friends and well wishers.